Laws to protect journalists who refuse to reveal their sources are on the way, Commonwealth Solicitor-General David Bennett QC, reportedly told the Victorian Supreme Court last month.

In the meantime public servants suspected of leaking are being prosecuted, and journalists are drawn into the net, as yesterday’s dust up between Federal Police and journalists at The Australian reveals.

Bennett’s intervention came during the trial of Herald-Sun journalists Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey, who got a good story that embarrassed the Government, and were then ordered to reveal their source. Harvey and McManus were convicted with contempt and are awaiting sentencing.

Yesterday’s fracas concerns the prosecution of Customs official Allan Robert Kessing, who was the author of a report into airport security that revealed gaping holes, from the employment of baggage handlers and guards with criminal records, to theft and pillage.

This report was leaked to The Australian in May 2005, and Kessing was charged with doing the leaking – which he denies. More background on the case is here.

There have been many adjournments while the Federal Government sought evidence against Kessing, and now that search has apparently extended to serving a subpoena on an Australian journalist. The case is expected to run and run.

All this, of course, will be costing thousands of taxpayer dollars, and for leaks which were indisputably in the public interest.

So where are these laws to protect journalists who refuse to reveal their sources?

The current rush of activity suggests that Attorney General Philip Ruddock, who first promised action in 2005, had better get his skates on.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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