"Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged…just for doing their jobs"
The Australian Government is set to introduce changes to the Commonwealth secrecy offences which will address concerns about their number, inconsistency, appropriateness, and complexity.
Attorney-General Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP had announced a comprehensive review of the Commonwealth Secrecy Provision to be undertaken by his department in December 2022.
Following the completion of the review, the Australian government has accepted the following reforms:
- removal of criminal liability from approximately 168 secrecy offences out of the 875 total secrecy offences
- further reductions in the number of offences through the enactment of a new general secrecy offence in the Criminal Code Act 1995 that will ensure Commonwealth officers and others with confidentiality obligations can be held to account for harm caused by breaching those obligations
- improved protections for press freedom and individuals providing information to Royal Commissions
- establishment of principles for the framing of secrecy offences that will guide the future development and consistency of secrecy laws across Commonwealth laws
The Government will also require ministerial consent for the prosecution of journalists concerning certain secrecy offences to further strengthen protections for them.
“Secrecy offences play an important role in preventing the unauthorised disclosure of information which can undermine national security and harm the public interest,” said Dreyfus.
“The Albanese Government believes a strong and independent media is vital to democracy and holding governments to account,” he added.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security first recommended a comprehensive review of Commonwealth secrecy offences in 2018 but the Coalition Government was unable to complete a review and did not publicise any work regarding it.
In pursuit of protecting press freedom and the public’s right to information, the reforms add to the previous work done by the Albanese Government.
“Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged or even gaoled just for doing their jobs,” said Dreyfus.