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Speech to Rally on Press Freedom

Mehreen Faruqi 14 Jun 2019

Thanks for coming together this morning to stand up for democracy, to uphold truth and to protect public interest.

We are outside the office of Paul Fletcher. The Communications Minister who has shamefully remained largely silent through this chilling saga.

The AFP raids we have seen on the home of Annika Smethurst and the ABC offices last week are a blatant, brazen attack on democracy, press freedom and the community.

We should all be very concerned by this. The AFP – the Government’s law enforcement arm – is getting extremely broad warrants to disrupt the vital work of journalists. They rifled through a reporter’s home and personal belongings and scoured through emails of the national broadcaster – our ABC. And once they’ve seized emails and documents, national security laws mean they are able to alter them – completely legally.

If these unprecedented raids don’t ring alarm bells for us, nothing will. These are dangerous and scary tactics on so many levels. Whether or not they were designed to do so, their result is the intimidation of whistleblowers, journalists and news organisations. For whistleblowers in particular, these raids are a clear and chilling message that if you dare to speak to a journalist in public interest -- if you dare to reveal information the public has a right to know – the AFP is going to come after you.

This will stop citizens from divulging what they know, this will stop ordinary people from coming forward with information they know should be in the public domain. This intimidation fits neatly into the Government’s efforts to hide themselves from public scrutiny. I can’t tell you how many times my Freedom of Information requests have been fobbed off, delayed, and complicated by demands for additional and often meaningless details. They are needlessly costly, time-consuming and a confusing process that hampers the release of information that should already have been in the public domain.

The only avenue left for transparency is through information provided by the good citizens of our country. Now this is in real jeopardy. I know that journalists have become fearful of being raided and arrested for stories that they might be chasing and thinking of writing.

We know the AFP has not ruled out arresting journalists and the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has no qualms about journalists going to jail for revealing secrets in the public interest.. Let’s not forget that this is the same Peter Dutton who lashed out at his critics in the media last year, declaring the ABC and The Guardian are "dead to me" over their reporting of his views on South African refugees. Let’s also not forget the selective dropping of the investigation of the ‘medevac’ leak which served the political interests of the government. This should raise serious questions about the politicization of law enforcement in our country.

Even if they didn’t order them directly, the government is responsible for these raids. It is the minister who sets the direction of the agencies and it is the government that have vastly expanded the reach of the AFP and intelligence agencies. This is a government that wants to do its dirty work without any scrutiny whatsoever. This is a government so emboldened and uninhibited by their recent election victory that they reject any form of accountability and transparency.

The Greens have always stood strong on freedom of speech and press freedom. We have refused to support laws that expanded the powers of intelligence agencies and created new offences for journalists and whistleblowers for disclosing information about their operations. We have warned of the consequences of opening the door to building a surveillance state. And we will continue to stand up for a democratic state where freedom of speech and freedom of the press debates are not hijacked by those who only want the freedom to be a bigot or the community’s right to know is not curtailed under the guise of national security.

Journalism is not a crime. We will not stand by while journalists are attacked for doing their job. We cannot allow them or their sources to be silenced by undemocratic laws, threats and intimidation. We must speak up with outrage and without fear. We must fight for legislative protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

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