The new South Australian government has drafted whistleblower shield laws — an election promise — that will leave Queensland as the only territories without local laws to protect journalists and their sources.

Shield laws give protections to journalists if called before a court to keep the identity of their sources secret. The protection journalists have varies between states, and before there were any shield laws in place, three Australian journalists had gone to jail for refusing to reveal their sources.

Federal

In 2011, the federal government introduced national shield laws that protect journalists and bloggers. To claim journalist’s privilege under this law, the public interest must outweigh “any likely adverse effect of the disclosure on the source or any other person; and the public interest in the communication of facts and opinion to the public by the news media and the ability of the news media to access sources of facts”.

New South Wales

New South Wales was the first state to pass journalist shield laws in 2012, which did not cover bloggers or community activists. They do not allow any protection to journalists giving evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption. 

Victoria

The Victorian Evidence Act was amended in 2013 to allow journalists to refuse to identify their sources, unless a judge ordered them to reveal sources in the public interest. This was first tested in 2015 when The Age’s Nick McKenzie relied on the provision in a defamation case heard in the Victorian Supreme Court — he was allowed to keep his sources secret.

South Australia

Draft laws seen by The Advertiser earlier this week would apply when keeping journalists’ sources confidential was in the public interest. Courts could only overturn this protection if revealing the identity of the source outweighed negative impacts on the source, the free flow of information and the value of a free press, The Advertiser reported.

Western Australia

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart was responsible for the first test of WA’s shield laws, introduced in 2012, while attempting to get various journalists and outlets to reveal their sources on stories about her. She lost bids to get then-The West Australian’s Steve Pennells and Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson to reveal their sources.

Northern Territory

Earlier this year, the NT Government amended its Evidence Act to allow a journalist to keep their sources’ identities secret, unless there was a “likely adverse effect of the disclosure on the informant or any other person; and the public interest in the communication of facts and opinion to the public and, accordingly also, in the ability of journalists to access sources of information.”

Tasmania

Journalists are able to protect their sources under a provision in its Evidence Act.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT’s shield laws, also included as part of its Evidence Act, do not protect bloggers.

Queensland

No shield laws.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect recent changes to the Northern Territory’s relevant legislation.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now