Government launches public consultation for review of Commonwealth secrecy offences

The government is taking steps to advance press freedom in the country

Government launches public consultation for review of Commonwealth secrecy offences

The Albanese Government has announced the commencement of public consultations as part of its landmark review of Commonwealth secrecy offences.

The government said in a press release that it has taken a major step towards advancing press freedom in the country by launching a public consultation process to comprehensively review Commonwealth secrecy offences. The consultation paper, which contains a list of all the Commonwealth’s secrecy offences, seeks the views of all interested stakeholders on the operation of secrecy provisions.

Secrecy offences play a vital role in protecting national security and the public interest by preventing unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information. However, multiple reviews have raised concerns about the number, inconsistency, appropriateness and complexity of Commonwealth secrecy offences.

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The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security had initially recommended a review of Commonwealth secrecy offences in 2020, but the former government did not complete the review or make any work public. The Albanese government has taken steps towards implementing the project by launching a six-week public consultation process seeking views on the operation of secrecy provisions, including:

  • what principles should govern the framing of general and specific secrecy offences in Commonwealth legislation
  • whether any general or specific secrecy offences should be amended or repealed
  • what defences should be available for general and specific secrecy offences
  • what principles should govern the framing of the public interest journalism defence and should any amendments be considered.

The government claimed that the review advances its press freedom agenda. The government is encouraging all interested stakeholders to make submissions and provide a broad range of expertise and perspectives to ensure that the review is informed by diverse opinions. The consultation process will close on May 4, 2023, and the final report will be delivered to the government by June 30, 2023. The review’s consultation paper is available on the Attorney-General’s Department website.

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