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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7681

Senator BROWN (10:13 AM) —They were good questions from Senator Nettle, and I hope the minister—

Senator Ellison —We are not going to rehash this simply so that you can spin it out.

Senator BROWN —We are getting to trite interjections from the minister now on important matters. I should point out that, in following the series of amendments on the running sheet, we are now into the heart of the matter of this legislation and it covers quite a bit of territory. I think this debate is very important because it will effectively mean shortening debate on the items serially as they come down the line.

On the matter of journalistic freedoms, I want to go specifically to the submission by Michael Gawenda, Associate Publisher and Editor of the Age, to the Senate committee on 22 November. In that submission he said:

The bill ... permits journalists to be held incommunicado. We cannot conceive of any reasonable circumstances where this is desirable or warranted. Our lawyers should have access to our journalists who are being detained. Our lawyers should also have the authority to fully advise the company on all relevant issues.

I want the minister to go beyond saying, `The Murdoch press had a different point of view.' I think the committee deserves to be given reassurances about the points that Mr Gawenda raises. In his submission he goes on to say:

These are the competing interests we sought to balance in developing our proposal that a qualified privilege—I stress not absolute but qualified privilege—be given to journalists under the terms of this bill.

We urge the committee to recommend a clear test to provide predictability to journalists, editors and sources. Specifically we propose that, for any journalist subject to a warrant under section 34D of the bill, the legal authority—

that is the authority issuing the warrant—

would have to be satisfied that, firstly, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the warrant is absolutely essential to collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offence; secondly, that the intelligence cannot be collected by any other means; and, thirdly, it would not be contrary to the public interest to do so.

After making that specific recommendation, Mr Gawenda goes on to say:

We also believe it is essential that you reverse the evidentiary burden in the bill that a journalist prove that he or she does not have the information or record requested. I do believe we are in danger here of descending into an Alice in Wonderland world where you have to prove a negative in order to avoid going to jail.

Senator Nettle touched on that problem. In looking at the proposed amendment to the legislation put forward by the Age and its publisher and editor, I ask the minister: what is the government's argument against entertaining such a series of three amendments to ensure that the legal authority—who is being asked to issue a warrant to have somebody taken secretly from the street, or her or his home or workplace—should first be satisfied of the matters that Mr Gawenda puts forward?