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Thursday, 12 September 2019
Page: 2066

Senator WATT (Queensland) (11:23): I might add a little bit more in terms of the reasons for Labor's support of amendments (2) to (5), which, as I say, go to matters of press freedom. As Labor speakers on this bill have made clear, while supporting the general intent of this bill to better protect farms and farming communities from unlawful trespass by extremist protesters on their land, Labor has been concerned that this bill may have the effect of criminalising the actions of journalists who are only seeking to do their jobs in the public interest. This could include merely reporting on matters of unlawful animal cruelty.

As I noted in my speech in the second reading debate, evidence to the Senate committee inquiring into this bill from numerous submitters, including the Law Council of Australia and Australia's Right to Know Coalition, was that, as presently drafted, the protections in this bill are inadequate to protect public interest journalism. We've been pressing for an amendment to address these concerns and are pleased to have been able to reach agreement with the government on this amendment. It's another good example of what can be achieved by a party that is interested in governing and interested in good legislation—and I am referring there to Labor rather than the government—rather than grandstanding, as we're seeing from the other corner of this room.

Like so many Australians, over recent months I have been concerned to see the Morrison government's lack of respect for the public's right to know about unlawful activities and the government's willingness to use the criminal law and the police to seek to intimidate independent journalists and whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing. We in Labor have been concerned to ensure that this bill will not add to the threats to journalists and media organisations which fulfil a vital role in our democracy. Amendments (2) to (5), in our opinion, will achieve that objective, and they therefore have Labor's support.