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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9965


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (23:38): As the Labor government seeks to regulate and restrict the media, freedom of speech and transparency are now more important than ever. Goaded on by the Greens, this government is stifling free speech, because it cannot stand to be criticised in the public sphere. It vilifies individuals and attacks unfavourable coverage.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: We do not need, Senator Conroy, more regulation of the mainstream media. Just because ex-Senator Bob Brown harped on about the 'hate' media—that being any outlet that questioned the Greens' agenda and policies—it does not mean that Labor should jump at his command. But I fear that is what has happened.

Unfortunately, the issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is not confined to Australia. England is also facing its own battle over censorship and regulation. Last year in England there was a serious debate about super injunctions. These were used to prohibit the publishing of details related to the lives of those who attempt to protect their privacy. For example, a famous footballer took out a super injunction to stop discussion about his alleged affair. When thousands on the social media outlet Twitter went wild with speculation and started naming the footballer, he actually tried to sue Twitter.

In the end it was a Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, who used parliamentary privilege to name the footballer in the House of Commons. Mr Hemming later said of the footballer, Ryan Giggs:

Basically when he ... showed that he was going to go after relatively normal people and try and prosecute them, for gossiping about him on a matter of trivia, I think he has to be held to account for that.

Stories like this, while they may provide sensationalist fodder for the tabloids, also highlight the seriousness of the debate around regulation, censorship and new media. Each year we are seeing increasing demands and stronger moves to restrict what we can and cannot say. This was previously the gambit of communist and socialist regimes. Authorities wielded power over the press and the public, dictating what could be reported and discussed. Now, I fear, it is the objective of an increasing number of Western governments, captured by political correctness, who seek to make taking offence at what others have to say a new occupation. The question remains: why are we now seeking to go back to the days of state sanctioned censorship of opinion and fact?

While in England recently someone told me about the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions which was set up to examine the enforcement of anonymity injunctions and superinjunctions. In looking at some of the committee documents, I came across some written evidence to the committee that made reference to an Australian police murder investigation. A submission made by a man named Mr Mark Burby provides details of a superinjunction filed against him in 2009 by an 'ex-spouse of an Asian head of state'. The injunction was filed by the claimant to protect details about her personal life. The information in this submission is subject to a superinjunction and cannot be discussed publicly in England. The claimant's lawyers even attacked the time honoured principle of parliamentary privilege in an attempt to have the submission removed from the parliament website. According to Mr Burby's submission, one of the areas covered by the injunction is:

Any information calculated to identify the Claimant as the claimant in English proceedings against another individual or as the plaintiff in Australian proceedings against another individual, whom has since been assassinated, and a company that he controlled …

And:

… any allegation that the Claimant was involved in or responsible for that individual's murder.

'Australian proceedings against another individual, whom has been assassinated' are words that guaranteed to pique my interest and, I suspect, would pique the interest of several others. Also, Mr Burby claims in his submission that:

… the existence of the super injunction is suffocating the truth being either investigated or other witnesses evidence being obtained. It is further compounded by the fact the man assassinated was the subject of a similar/identical super-injection taken out by the same claimant to avoid publication of the same facts. He was assassinated at the juncture of making an application to have the injunction set-aside on grounds that would have, in all likeliness, been successful. This is clearly a matter of public interest.

Indeed, it is a matter of public interest. My concern here lies with the consequences of this injunction and how it might impact on the investigations of this murder in Australia. I have been advised that the superinjunction could be impeding a line of questioning by NSW police. If this is true, we should all be very concerned—not just those who have are suspected of being involved in this crime or those who have been charged with the crime.

I understand that the sentencing of some of those allegedly involved in the murder is occurring in the next few weeks and that a trial of the alleged mastermind of the assassination is expected next year. I am drawing no conclusions whatsoever about the case itself regarding the innocence or guilt of the accused, but it seems wrong to me that a civil injunction in England is possibly restricting a criminal investigation in Australia. Who knows if information covered by this English superinjunction could actually have an impact on this murder case?

Instances such as this demonstrate that we should remain mindful of the consequences of the push for more restrictions and regulations on freedom of speech. Those who are upset by criticism or have something to hide will never stop trying to chip away at our freedoms. The government's push for media regulation is a prime example of that. I do not believe that it should not be allowed to go unchallenged. By continuing to allow greater censorship in what either the media or the public are allowed to say we do a great disservice to our country and to future generations of Australians who deserve, as much as we do, to enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy.