The slide into secrecy must stop

Free speech in Australia is under attack.

Australians either allow the slide to secrecy to continue, or we rally and seek strengthened free speech laws.

Countless laws exist that restrict the media right to publish in Australia. The obvious ones are defamation, contempt of court, suppression orders, children’s court rules, or national security secrecy laws that allow raids on journalists.

The media accepts that laws in these areas are necessary. In all cases such laws are a balancing act.

For example, defamation balances the right to free speech against protection of reputation.

Contempt of court and suppression laws balance free speech and open justice against the right to a fair trial.

Getting the balance right is the key — and at the moment, the balance is off. Free speech is not being valued as it should be. There is no “first amendment right to free speech” such as in the United States.

Free speech is not just a concept. It includes the media’s right and ability to inform you — the public — about important issues.

I’ve been a media lawyer for more than 20 years. Pretty much every day for those 20 years I’ve been involved in the application of those laws. It might be a case in court, some advice I provide about a proposed article or responding to a police subpoena, but I’ve seen just about every secrecy law in operation.

And make no mistake, in my view the media is definitely more inhibited and restricted in what it can publish today than it was 20 years ago.

So while freedoms and rights in just about all other areas of society are becoming more liberal, free speech in Australia is becoming more restricted.

The slide to secrecy must stop.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published