06 June 2019

SUBJECTS: AFP raids, national security legislation, the questions Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton must answer, freedom of the press, the United States.
THE HON. KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Media freedom is at the core of our democracy and the events of the last forty-eight hours have raised concern in the community – have raised concern around the world – whether media freedom in Australia is under attack and at risk. The question is, is this the new reality in Australia? Is a free press a right Australians can continue to rely on under the Morrison Government? I can't answer that question – only Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton can. Now Labor takes very seriously the issues surrounding national security. It is entirely legitimate for a government to keep some matters secret in order to ensure the safety and the security that Australians enjoy. However, in a democracy, there is always a balancing act between the matters that need to be kept secret and the right of a free press to operate. It is one that Parliaments have debated for some time and I believe we had been getting the balance right. However, it is not just about getting the laws right. We also need to ensure that the public have confidence, that the perception that is given in public, is one that ensures people the rights and freedoms they enjoy and rely on continue to be upheld in our democratic and open society.
Now many people will have seen the last forty-eight hours as the first steps down a slippery slope to losing a free press in Australia. Now that may be a perception; it may not be the reality. But it is incumbent upon the government of the day, Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, and Peter Dutton as Minister for Home Affairs, responsible for the Australian Federal Police, to answer those questions. In a free society, citizens have to right to question the actions of their government. When Australians see two significant raids, on two consecutive days, on two major news organisations – News Corp and the ABC – and particularly a raid on the home of a chief political editor, Annika Smethurst, when Australians bear witness to the police examining the contents of her personal clothing, her underwear drawer, her kitchen appliances. When Australians learn that a warrant issued to examine the ABC included the right to remove and alter documents, Australians, our national media organisations and our parliamentarians can and should rightly ask – what the Morrison Government considers the status of a free and open press in our society.
Now, I'm raising these questions today. These questions go to the core of what it is to say that Australia is a free and open country. I anticipate that because I am raising the questions that Minister Dutton may well say I and Labor are undermining the Australian Federal Police and national security. So let me make two points unambiguously. One, it is entirely legitimate and necessary to ensure that some matters are kept secret in order to ensure safety and security for our country. It is also entirely legitimate and necessary for governments to investigate when undisclosed release of such information, unauthorised disclosure of some information, is put in the public realm. It is completely legitimate and necessary for governments to investigate the unauthorised disclosure of secret information. However, what Australians want as a successful, safe, and mature country is to know that the democratic rights and freedoms and responsibilities that we have, we can continue to enjoy. It is what has made us safe; it is what has made us successful. It is not just the national security measures we have in place, but it is also the fact we are an open and free society and that we can rely on things like a free press. And the events of the past two days, the actions taken under this Government, they give real rise to questions about the state of the free press in this country, and whether the balance is tipping significantly towards a weakening of a core element of our democratic system – a free and independent media. So no matter where these two investigations lead, whether journalists are charged or not, whether other people are charged or not, it is reasonable to say these two raids will have a chilling effect on media organisations in this country and on the public debate on significant matters.
The most basic question, the most basic question that Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison need to answer is the value that they place on a free press in Australia. What can they say to the citizens of this country to assure them that the vibrancy and the validity of the free press in Australia is the same as it was three days ago, before the raids took place? It's incumbent upon the Government to stand up and answer these questions, to assure Australians that the freedom of a free press is one that they can continue to rely on, under a Morrison Government. Basically, this is a matter of confidence and trust. Many Australians have lost confidence that the media is being protected; they have lost the freedom of the media is being protected. They have lost trust the Government has got that balance right. And it's up to the Government to rebuild that confidence and that trust. Now the Government has other questions to answer, including, it has been more than forty-eight hours since these extraordinary raids occurred. These are extraordinary raids, make no bones about it. It has been decades since we have seen raids of this nature – raids on the personal home of a News Corp journalist, raids on the ABC.
Now, it has been about forty-eight hours, more than forty-eight hours, and it's not good enough that the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister who oversees the Australian Federal Police, has not stood up and answered questions in front of the nation's media and in front of the nation, as to what he and his office knew about these investigations, what he and his office knew about these raids. It is, in fact, incumbent upon him to do that. Exactly what section of the Crimes Act are the police using the undertake these investigations? I note in Nine newspapers today, there has been conflicting information in the public realm about whether the Government is relying on Section 70 or Section 79 of the Crimes Act when executing these warrants and investigating these alleged offences. Now this distinction matters. It goes to the heart of who is being investigated here. Which section they are using will determine who is being investigated here, or at least will give us some information as to about who is being investigated here. I make this point, because just earlier this week, the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, made public statements where he conveyed to the nation that it was his understanding, that it was only government officials who were being investigated here. But today, the AFP appears to have corrected their public statement, they appear to have assert that it is Section 79, and that does leave open the very real possibility there's people besides government officials under investigation. It's incumbent upon the Government to make clear, to make clear in this era of confusion, as to which section the police are relying on, and the implications of that. In short, are governments targeting journalists in this investigation? Are the police investigating journalists in this investigation?
Now, the publicly published AFP guidelines state, and I quote, ""All matters where the execution of a search warrant may have politically sensitive implications should be raised with the Minister responsible for the AFP, by the relevant Minister or Department at the time of the referral. This enables the Government to be informed at the earliest juncture of potentially politically contentious matters that may require investigation by the AFP."" Now based on the public statements, both by Minister Dutton and the AFP, the AFP did not inform the minister in advance. That can only mean a decision was taken at some point this was not a politically sensitive investigation. That either, that both the investigation that led to the raid on Annika Smethurst's home, as well as the investigation that led to the raid on the ABC, at some point, somewhere, a decision was taken that these are not politically sensitive investigations. The question for Minister Dutton is simply this – does Minister Dutton agree these raids were not politically sensitive? And if not, why not? It's reasonable to assert the execution of a search warrant upon the home of a major political journalist, a chief political editor of a major news organisation, News Corp, about a story that generated significant political discussion when it was published, does have political implications. It's incumbent upon the Minister to explain if he agrees with the determination these are not politically sensitive matters. It's incumbent upon the Minister to speak to whether or not he has spoken to the AFP, about whether or not these matters are politically sensitive, and if he thinks he should have been advised, what steps will he take to work with the AFP to ensure they have clear guidelines in place about making the determination of what constitutes a politically sensitive matter.
Finally, why has the investigation of these matters taken so long? I'm sure many in the community look at these investigations, look at these two raids that have happened, and observe that these stories were published some years ago. It is important, while the AFP is independent, for the Government to explain in rebuilding trust and confidence, why these have been such lengthy investigations. It is also important for the Government to explain if other matters, other leaks, other disclosures of sensitive information, are going to receive the same vigour in their investigations. For example, the disclosure of ASIO advice to the public during the parliamentary debate on the Medevac legislation. A matter that ASIO itself spoke to with some displeasure. Will that receive a similar vigorous investigation? Does Minister Dutton characterise this matter as politically sensitive? And does he expect to be advised if a warrant is executed in that circumstance?
These specific questions are now all up to the Government to answer. But what sits at the end and the beginning of all of these questions remains that one broad point – it is incumbent upon the Government to address. Is this the new reality in Australia? As Australians wake up today, to news headlines here and around the world, as Australians witness these raids upon two major news organisations, News Corp and the ABC, Australians are alarmed, parliamentarians are alarmed, news organisations are alarmed, and they're rightly asking is this the new reality in Australia? Is freedom of the press a freedom Australians can rely on under the Morrison Government? I'm happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Senator will Labor consider amendments to national security legislation to keep journalists and whistle-blowers stronger defences for public information disclosures?
KENEALLY: Labor has approached the issue in the espionage legislation that passed earlier this year, there were two Bills – foreign interference and espionage legislation. That Bill came to the Parliament; it was inadequate. Labor worked for six months, hundreds of amendments were put forward, and importantly in that legislation, there were public interest defences because of the amendments Labor moved. Now, I think it's important to note two things here – one, the raids that have occurred, the warrants that have been executed, the investigations that are under way, are not as a result of the legislation that passed the Parliament in 2018. They are being investigated under the Crimes Act of 1914 because that is the legislation that was in force at the time these alleged offences were committed. And two, it is incumbent upon the Government to speak to this matter first. To speak to how they are going to how they're going to rebuild trust, to speak to how much they value the freedom of the press in this country. It is incumbent upon Scott Morrison as Prime Minister and Peter Dutton as Minister for Home Affairs to address these matters in public. They are the Government. They won the election. The onus is on them. If they have legislation they want to bring forward to do this, and I have heard some suggestion this morning the Prime Minister gave some words that suggested he might be open to thinking about this, what I would say to the Prime Minister is work with us in a bipartisan fashion. Come to us early. Don't leak the legislation or the proposed changes to the media and then say you're being bipartisan. Come and work with us. It's incumbent upon all of us in the Parliament to uphold democratic freedoms; it is incumbent upon all of us in the Parliament to uphold trust in the community. But the government of the day is the Morrison Government and they need to stand up, speak to this issue, and if they want to work with the Opposition on this, I say the door is open.
JOURNALIST: Senator does Australia need some sort of bill of rights to protect press freedoms and other freedoms in Australia such as religious freedoms?
KENEALLY: I don’t think that we need to take this issue and jump straight to that conclusion. On the matter we have before us today, it is extraordinary, it is an extraordinary step, an unusual step, and it is one that has created alarm amongst the nation’s media and amongst the community. Now the fact that it is so extraordinary, the fact that this is so unusual would suggest that this is not a systemic problem. This is one that Australia has been able to support for most of its democratic time – that is that we value and uphold the free press. The reason there is such alarm in the community is that because this is such an unusual step and it is incumbent upon the Government who are sovereign here. I want to make clear that at no time am I criticising the Australian Federal Police. And at no time am I suggesting that the Government should be directing the Australian Federal Police, but what I do want to make clear that in a democracy, the people are sovereign, their elected representatives are sovereign. And when there is concern in the community that the basic rights that uphold our democratic system are under threat, it’s incumbent on the Government to come forward and reassure the citizenry, to reassure the community, and to make clear the value they place on a free press and what, if any, steps they are going to take to safeguard it. Now they are the Government and I look forward to seeing them do that I think the first step here is to give the Government that opportunity and I am encouraging, I dare say I am demanding, that they do that.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor support a Senate Inquiry into these raids?
KENEALLY: That is an option open to the Opposition. As I’ve just said, I think it’s important that the Government have the opportunity to step up. It has been more than forty-eight hours now since these raids commenced and it is important that we hear from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs. They have not stood before the nation – stood before the nation’s media – and answered the questions, the type you’re putting to me here today. It does remain an option for Labor. Of course, it would require the support of the crossbench. I have not spoken to them but it would require their support. But I do think, in our democracy, it’s important that the Government first of all have the opportunity, and take the opportunity, to answer these questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe Ministers when they say that the raids were all done at “arm’s length” from the Executive?
KENEALLY: Well, these are questions that need to be answered by the Government in a media conference here, or in Canberra, or in Sydney, but I think Peter Dutton needs to stand up, and he needs to stand up as soon as possible. He has vacated the space for the past forty-eight hours. The Prime Minister, quite bluntly, needs to stand up. By the way, I am not the only person saying this. You asked about Government Ministers. Earlier today we saw Government frontbencher Darren Chester say that the Australian people would be concerned about these raids and the Australian people would rightly expect further explanation.
JOURNALIST: The warrant executed on the ABC allowed the AFP to add, copy, delete and alter notes, emails and draft documents, something you touched on briefly. How comfortable are you with such broad powers to be exercised in that warrant, in that way?
KENEALLY: This is an extraordinary warrant and, earlier today, Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General spoke to this as well. This warrant is quite extraordinary. The idea that in collecting information, which is what a warrant allows the Police Force to do – which is to collect information – they have been given what seem to be rather unusual and extraordinary powers to alter or delete information. Again, it’s incumbent upon the Government to come forward, to stand up, and to explain this. So far we have seen a Government Attorney-General, Christian Porter, unable to answer accurately questions about which Section of the Crimes Act is being used and relied upon in this investigation. We have not heard from the Minister for Home Affairs, we have not heard from the Prime Minister. But this is an unusual and extraordinary warrant in unusual and extraordinary circumstances.
JOURNALIST: Senator shouldn’t the AFP or Government heads name who the Department heads were that actually referred the raid referrals and on what day they made them?
KENEALLY: As I said earlier, there’s a range of questions that Peter Dutton needs to answer here, and only Peter Dutton can answer them. It’s not possible for me as the Shadow or for anyone else to answer them. There are two people who can stand up – one is Peter Dutton and one is Scott Morrison. And it is necessary to understand in a circumstance where we have alarm in the community about the status of a free press in this country and the way in which these investigations have been carried out, the timing of these investigations, the knowledge that Government Ministers may or may not have had. These are all questions that only Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison can answer.
JOURNALIST: The question, though, is do you believe the AFP or the Government should make sure that those names are provided?
KENEALLY: Well, again, we don’t have a lot of clarity on this. I think the more information that can be forthcoming here, the better. Because what we have is extraordinary concern in the community about the attack on the free press. And people are rightly asking questions. As I said, in a democratic and open society, people can question their government. And it’s now time for the Government in this circumstance to put themselves forward and to give answers.
JOURNALIST: Senator, on another matter, if I may. You were a Sky News commentator when Donald Trump was elected and at the time you said that you had to process feelings of disappointment, disbelief, frustration, anger and fear. How do you feel about Donald Trump now?
KENEALLY: Well, I would observe that there were many people that expressed views not dissimilar, including the now-Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Let me just say that, of course, I respect the Office of the President of the United States. The US remains and always will be an important friend and perhaps, it’s fair to say, it has always been our most significant friend. I myself am a product of the ANZUS alliance when my American grandfather came over here and met my Australian grandmother. It’s something that, both in my personhood and in my role as a Parliamentarian, I value deeply.
JOURNALIST: Just back onto public interest journalism, how sufficient are the protections in Australia, would you say right now?
KENEALLY: These are very significant questions – very timely questions – and the reason I’m standing here today, because we have always enjoyed a free press. We have always enjoyed the capacity for the media to carry out its important role in our democracy without fear of their homes being raided or their material being seized, altered or deleted. This does open up potentially a cornucopia of questions. Those questions can be answered, in large part, by the Government of the day standing up and making clear their view about the validity and the role of the free press, the value they place upon it and what they see as necessary to uphold it. Labor has been abundantly clear in this circumstance – we are alarmed, we share the community’s alarm, we share the media’s alarm and we are calling on the Government to stand up and do their job and answer questions in public. Thanks everyone.