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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4331

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital TerritoryAssistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation) (13:31): That term you refer to is not something that's in the bill, but the offences in the bill have been very carefully scoped to ensure that they target harmful conduct. I have a couple of important points to make. With the exception of secrecy offences, it's not appropriate to carve out journalists from the application of most of the offences. For example, the espionage offences apply where a person intends to or is reckless as to whether their conduct will prejudice Australia's national security or advantage the national security of a foreign country. There must also be a link to a foreign principal. If a journalist engaged in the relevant conduct and these circumstances existed, it would be appropriate for the espionage offences to apply.

In relation to foreign interference, it's necessary for the prosecution to prove that the person's conduct is covert or deceptive, involves a threat to cause serious harm or involves a demand with menaces. Alternatively, a person must be seeking to exert undisclosed influence over another person. The secrecy offences are, however, an exception. For these offences, a specific defence is available to journalists reporting in the public interest. This defence will apply where a person dealt with or held information in the person's capacity as a person engaged in reporting news, presenting current affairs or expressing editorial content in news media where the person reasonably believed that dealing with or holding the information was in the public interest. The defence covers a range of staff, including legal, editorial and other administrative support staff engaged in news reporting in media organisations. The defence extends to communication holding, removing or otherwise dealing with information to allow journalists and other staff to undertake a range of activities that are necessary in the course of their work. We believe the journalist defence strikes an appropriate balance between deterring the covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors and recognising the critical role of journalists in informing debate that is in the public interest.