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Speech: Freedom of press and freedom to protest

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 23 Jul 2019

Freedom of press and freedom to protest are fundamental tenets of our democracy. But they are being increasingly trampled on and squeezed by this government. If Senator Stoker is actually interested in facts, these are the facts that you should be really concerned about: that our democratic rights are being trampled on by your government. Yesterday's arrest and charging of a French journalistic team who were filming—that's all they were doing—a protest at the entrance to Adani's Abbot Point facility in North Queensland should be chilling for anyone who supports free and independent press.

The idea that Queensland Police can issue an order forbidding journalists from going near a mining site is deeply, deeply worrying, but I guess we shouldn't really be surprised. This is the direction that this government and state governments around Australia have been heading down for some time. The level and extent of influence that big business and corporations have on this government and the laws that they make are truly frightening. Thank God for these journalists, who are the constant thorn in the side of powerful industries and corporations that are using and abusing the community and the environment. Whether it be mining companies like Adani, the racing and gambling industry or big businesses that commit wage theft, it is most often brave journalists that shine a light and provide transparency on issues that have been hidden away, that these big corporations don't want anyone to see and that the government is working in partnership with them to put a cloak over.

And it should be deeply concerning to all of us that Australia has slipped to 21st position in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders have noted that migrant detention centres run by government contractors on the islands of Manus and Nauru are in practice inaccessible to journalists and have become news and information black holes. Last year, the government enacted laws that threaten anyone who passes on classified information received from a federal public servant, including publishing it, with jail for up to five years. These are the facts. Recent AFP raids that we have seen on the home of Annika Smethurst and the ABC offices are a blatant, brazen attack on democracy and press freedom. They are an attack on our community and they are an attack on the community's right to know and the community's right to protest. If these unprecedented acts and raids don't ring alarm bells for us then nothing will. And, whether or not they were designed to do so, the result is the intimidation of whistleblowers, of journalists, of news organisations and of the public.

This is a government that wants to do its dirty work without any scrutiny whatsoever. For whistleblowers in particular, these specific raids are a clear and chilling message that, if you dare to speak up, if you dare to speak to a journalist in the public interest, if you dare to reveal information in public that the public have the right to know, the AFP is going to come after you. And it is the government which sets the direction of the agencies. It is the government that has vastly expanded the reach of police and intelligence agencies. More and more federal and state governments are making us a police state where our freedoms, our civil liberties and our human rights are curtailed, where our democracy is being stifled, where our activities are under surveillance, where our police and intelligence agencies have been given more and more and yet more powers and where fear and intimidation are tools and tactics that are regularly used to shut down transparency, to shut down questioning and to shut down protests. This is lamentable, this is appalling and this is unacceptable.

The Greens have always stood for strong freedom of speech, press freedom and the right for the community to protest. We have refused to support laws that expanded the power of intelligence agencies and we have opposed new offences for journalists and whistleblowers for disclosing information. We have warned of the consequences of opening the door to building a surveillance state.

Journalism is not a crime. We will not stand by while journalists are attacked and arrested for doing their job. We cannot allow them or their sources to be silenced by a police state, by undemocratic laws, by threats and by intimidation. We must speak up and we will speak up. We must fight for the protections of journalists, for whistleblowers and for our community.


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