EVIDENCE (JOURNALISTS) AMENDMENT BILL

Thursday 11 February, 2016

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (11:17): It goes without saying that the Evidence (Journalists) Amendment Bill 2015 must be supported by this government. As we, the freedom crusaders on this side of the chamber, have repeated time and time again, when it comes to this area, unfortunately South Australia is lagging behind the rest of the nation. When it comes to freedom of information laws and these kinds of laws, time and time again the government refuses to come into line and do what is right for the people of South Australia on this notion.

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (11:17): It goes without saying that the Evidence (Journalists) Amendment Bill 2015 must be supported by this government. As we, the freedom crusaders on this side of the chamber, have repeated time and time again, when it comes to this area, unfortunately South Australia is lagging behind the rest of the nation. When it comes to freedom of information laws and these kinds of laws, time and time again the government refuses to come into line and do what is right for the people of South Australia on this notion.

I see that there are members on the other side of the chamber smirking. They should look at some of the Hansard debates from their Labor comrades in other states and what they have had to say on this issue. What you will find—credit where credit is due—is that some of their colleagues interstate and federally have supported these kinds of laws. Why? Because it is a good idea to support them.

It is extremely important that the rights of individuals are protected, as the member for Bragg pointed out, against the capricious acts of the state. Protection of journalists is necessary in some instances. This kind of bill provides more consistency between commonwealth and state laws, which in turn is better overall. As I said, it has passed the other place. It has been supported by the crossbenchers there under their careful review and examination. It obviously encourages sources to give information to journalists without fear of retribution.

Notably, under this area it is very rare if there is any protection at all at common law to protect journalists from revealing their sources. It is important in a free and open society, as the member for Morialta pointed out, that these protections exist. Under the bill I note that journalists will be compelled to reveal their sources only if a case fails the public interest test. We would support that and ask the government to support the bill.

The bill strikes a very important balance between what would be the public interest of a free press and the public interest that we all share in justice being administered well. The bill, as has been pointed out, contains many provisions that if supported would provide somewhat of a shield for journalists from being expected to reveal their sources; and obviously a lot of the time their sources are confidential. As we have pointed out time and time again, it is imperative that the media are able to protect the rights of individuals against acts of the state.

It is no surprise that some on the other side of the chamber want to stop this from happening. Often we have seen whistleblowers in the Public Service who may not be happy with the government. On this side of the chamber we embrace people coming forward for the benefit of the state to point out the errors of the government. If these things need to be exposed, then, as the member for Morialta pointed out, sunlight can be the best disinfectant.

We are told that in many circumstances and in many areas there might sometimes be criminal intelligence which might justify some kind of course of action. However, a lot of the time this intelligence is not given and nor is it likely to be tested in court. A lot of the time it is used more like a stick than anything else. Our citizens have basic fundamental, long standing rights—and here we are fighting for them again—especially when they are under attack by our government. Citizens should be protected, because it is extremely important that they have the freedom to come forward and speak out. It is important that we have a free and active media which holds the government to account if it overstretches, if it overreaches, its power.

As the members for Bragg and Morialta pointed out, at the last state election we had a platform in this area; it was rejected by the government. If the government is serious about being a transparent government and not being the laughing stock of Australia, it needs to support these kinds of laws. The bill has had considered review by the other place and it had the support of the crossbenchers, which goes to the heart and the merit of this bill. It is not a bill about partisan politics. If it was, Labor colleagues around the nation would not have supported it, but they have.

It is important that where the common law does not offer protection we as the sovereign lawmakers of this state step in and put these laws into place. Our lives would not be the same if we did not have an open and free society and an open and free media. It is extremely important that we give journalists these protections. The overwhelming majority of journalists that I talk to are extremely professional. It is important that we give them these safeguards and measures in case they are given the wrong information or in case they ever need to come forward with it.

I believe the balance here is struck well between the free press, which is extremely important in the interests of the public, and justice in this state, and there are competing interests. There are certainly competing interests; however, in this state the government has got the balance all wrong. If it is good enough for most of the states in Australia to have these kinds of laws why then is South Australia trailing the nation? It is simply not good enough.

The Hon. Andrew McLachlan in the other place pointed to an example where respected Labor Senator Faulkner acknowledged in a debate some years ago (2009) how important the protection of journalists' sources is and how it is one of the most basic conditions of a free press. This has also been pointed out in other sources. Look at, for example, the European Court of Human Rights. As he pointed out and we are pointing out today, sources will not come forward and speak out and will be deterred from assisting the press without these kinds of protections.

It is absolutely ludicrous for anyone to suggest that this bill, or parts of the bill, are unconstitutional. It is just not the case. There obviously is a mischief, there is something that we are here to protect, there is a clear intention in this bill, and the government should support it. It is well set out. It goes on to identify who exactly will have cover under this bill. It goes on to also set out the liability that will be stopped from such journalists coming forward, and their sources.

It has been tested across the nation. It has been tested in all of the states across Australia and it should certainly be supported, because free media is essential to any free, democratic and just society. Some may say that the bill might go too far to one side and perhaps too far towards the journalists' side, but we do not agree on this side of the chamber.

We also clearly reject the discussion that says that the ICAC will be undermined if the bill goes ahead. It is absolute garbage to suggest that and it is extremely important that we support this bill. It has passed the other house and should pass this place, and I commend it to the house.