Attorney-General George Brandis says the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions will now be required to seek his approval before pursuing journalists.
Speaking at a new conference Brandis said “There is no possibility… that in our liberal democracy a journalist would ever be prosecuted for doing their job”.
The federal government’s first tranche of anti-terrorism legislation was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this month.
The new laws include a maximum 10 year prison sentence for unauthorised communication and publication of intelligence-related information.
Here’s what the Attorney-General said:
I have today decided to take advantage of the powers available to me under section 8 of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Act to give a direction to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions that in the event that the director had a brief to consider the possibility of the prosecution of a journalist under section 35p or under either of the two analogous provisions I have mentioned, he is required to consult me and no such prosecution could occur without the consent of the Attorney-General of the day.
After previously denying section 35p would target whistleblowers, Brandis changed his tune, saying the legislation was designed to prevent an “Edward Snowden-type event” from occurring.
That provision is not about journalists, it was never directed to journalists. Journalists have taken umbrage at it and rather than let this false story continue to run, I have installed what I’m sure you will see is a very powerful safeguard by having the Attorney-General take personal and therefore political responsibility for any prosecution, were any ever to be considered but, as I also said, it’s barely imaginable in this country that that will occur.
When asked about whether the laws would be used to target journalist’s sources, Brandis said “We’re not dealing with that today”.
This week, Labor helped the government pass the second tranche of its counter-terrorism legislation – the Foreign Fighters bill – through the Senate.
Earlier today Opposition leader Bill Shorten asked Prime Minister Tony Abbott to review anti-terror laws relating to media reporting of intelligence operations.
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