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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4388

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital TerritoryAssistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation) (16:55): I have a couple of points. One is that the espionage provisions have existed in one form or another in legislation for a long time. They exist now in, I think, areas such as the Criminal Code. I couldn't say exactly how long, but there hasn't been a spate of prosecutions of journalists for that type of activity. I just make the point that in the espionage provisions we're not necessarily talking of dramatic changes to what we've had. We've always had these types of provisions and, again, it fundamentally goes to the intent. The point you were making, Senator Rhiannon, about if it was a popular view versus an unpopular view is simply irrelevant to whether a potential offence would exist.

The provision that you have highlighted has a significant number of elements that would all have to be satisfied in order for a potential prosecution: a person deals with information or an article; the information or article has a security classification or concerns Australia's national security; the person intends that the person's conduct will prejudice Australia's national security or advantage national security of a foreign country; and the conduct results or will result in the information or article being communicated or made available to a foreign principal or a person acting on their behalf. They are the elements and, as I say, we have had these kinds of provisions for a long time. It's important that we do. Notwithstanding that, we haven't seen journalists who have engaged in their profession with anything other than an intent to damage national security being prosecuted for that.

Just going back to my earlier comment, which is related to this, it's a matter of public record, both from the Director-General of Security and from journalists reporting in Australian and overseas media, that foreign intelligence services have recruited and continue to recruit journalists to engage in espionage and related activities in Australia. This is a matter the Director-General spoke to in some detail in public evidence. The Director-General of Security said that a blanket exemption for journalists could 'effectively leave a door wide open for foreign spies to exploit, and may have the unintended consequence of increasing the intelligence threat that's faced by our journalists'. As I say, in some areas we have a specific defence when it comes to journalists; the espionage offences have a series of elements that would need to be made out. An offence would go to each of those elements particularly, and, most importantly, the intent to prejudice Australia's national security.