Australia’s biggest media companies have today censored their own front pages ($) as part of a united campaign calling on parliament to enshrine press freedom and protect whistleblowers.
The “Your Right to Know” campaign steps-up calls for law reform, focusing on the risks facing Australians if abuse and corruption are never exposed. The campaign, backed by Nine, the ABC, The Guardian, News Corp and others, demands six key legal changes ($), including the right to contest search warrants and a regime that limits which documents can be marked “secret”. Attorney-General Christian Porter, meanwhile, told Insiders he could not guarantee he would not sign off on the prosecution of journalists, but did say he was “seriously disinclined” to do so.
The government’s “signature infrastructure fund” has stalled, with only $2.2 million out of an allocated $3.5 billion having been spent despite calls for the government to boost spending to kickstart the economy.
The “roads of strategic importance” scheme, announced 18 months ago and designed to connect key ports, airports and other transit hubs, has only started construction on the upgrade to the Murchison Highway in Tasmania, with $15 million allocated to NSW for 2019-20 and nothing yet allocated to Victoria. Labor intends to use Senate estimates this week to investigate the scheme, with infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King saying the plan is “all on the never never”.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Home Affairs, meanwhile, has been “left scrambling” over a $7 million strategic review that allegedly didn’t exist, The Guardian reports.
BREXIT IN THE BALANCE
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is still on a knife-edge despite senior ministers’ claims he has the numbers to get it through. A Guardian analysis of voting intentions suggests Johnson is still one vote short of a majority, despite having all of his 287 voting MPs, 20 former Conservatives and eight Labour MPs on board.
The EU will wait until MPs debate the deal on Tuesday before making decisions on the terms of a further extension, something Johnson has been forced to ask for, while the Labour Party says it could back the Brexit bill if a second referendum were attached.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone’s … looking for a leave-pass on those things.
The Coalition is already pushing back against the reforms being demanded by the Your Right to Know campaign, with the PM suggesting journalists should not be “above the law”.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
CRIKEY QUICKIE: THE BEST OF YESTERDAY
“The chutzpah might seem mind-blowing to outsiders, but it’s immaterial to people who feel neglected, and sometimes even attacked, by those who wield power over their lives from thousands of kilometres away. During the election campaign, Labor tried to use the Philippines story against Christensen. But when a convoy of anti-Adani protesters from the other end of the continent showed up, with demands to stop a project many locals hoped (however falsely) would bring them jobs, questions about his propriety in the Philippines seemed irrelevant.”
“The irony, though, is particularly penetrating. Howard has made his career in the business of trashing reputations (another headline in the Enquirer as I write: ‘10 shocking photos of Teresa and Joe Giudice caught possibly cheating as divorce looms’), pursued with not even a fleeting nod to the concept of legitimate public interest. Of course, it could be that The National Enquirer and the other publications that Howard oversees aren’t trashy at all; perhaps they’re brimming with inconvenient truths rather than lazily slanderous crap as we tend to suppose. And maybe Farrow got it all wrong, meaning that Howard isn’t a hypocrite at all. Not that I was suggesting he might be. That’d be a bit too tabloid.”
“What would be really needed now is a bolder plan for rural Australia, sold with a bit of very tough love. Whole sections of rural Australia are simply a failed state scheme, and creating a viable ‘next rural Australia’ requires a comprehensive triage. It’s clear that hundreds, maybe thousands of farms should be bought up by the state — these will often be grace payments for farms of no worth — and rewilded. Some sets of small dying country towns should be consolidated, with some towns abandoned (if it’s good for rural black people to have their communities remade so, why not for benefits-dependent rural white people?).”
The question all Australians should be asking ($) – Michael Miller (The Daily Telegraph): “Every time a government imposes new restrictions on what journalists can report, Australians should ask: “What are they trying to hide from me?” Why has the government made rules to keep myself and other Australians in the dark? Why does it want to limit the ability of the people who elect it to assess what it’s doing? Why is it so driven to silence the media and whistleblowers? Overwhelmingly Australians should be shocked that we live in what The New York Times has described as possibly the world’s most secretive democracy. Put simply, our governments don’t want you to know a lot of what they are doing — and journalists are banned from telling many important stories you should know. And you have a right to be suspicious and concerned.”
Press freedom under threat from national security law spree – Jennifer Robinson (The Age/Sydney Morning Herald): “Australia has long been described as a liberal democracy. But we have a press freedom problem that raises genuine questions about whether we continue to deserve that title. Between police raids on journalists, unlawful accessing of metadata to identify a journalist’s source, and a spree of new national security legislation which criminalises journalistic activity, the recent actions of the Australian government sound less like those of a liberal democracy than of an authoritarian regime. This is dangerous not just for Australian journalists, but for journalists everywhere.”
Why I can’t tell you the full story ($) – Paul Maley (The Australian): “I’d love to be able to tell you about my most recent experience reporting on a sensitive national security matter, but if I did I might end up in jail. The story, you see, is the subject of a particularly onerous suppression order. Suppression orders aren’t strictly speaking the subject of today’s cross-media campaign, although perhaps they should be. Along with Australia’s arcane defamation laws they’re the legal obstacle the jobbing reporter is most likely to encounter as he or she attempts to bring you the day’s news. According to some excellent reporting by The Daily Telegraph some 855 suppression orders were issued by Australian courts last year. More than half — 443 — were handed down in Victoria, the jurisdiction that tried Cardinal George Pell in conditions of the most extraordinary secrecy. In many instances even reporting the existence of these orders is a crime. In other words, even the suppression is suppressed.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
BirdLife Australia will launch its annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count, asking Australians to help count the birds that share their urban, rural and regional backyards as part of National Bird Week.
Phase 2 of ICAC’s Operation Eclipse will focus on corruption risks associated with lobbying, and lobbying practices in general, with witnesses Stephen Galilee (of Minerals Council NSW) and Georgina Woods (of Lock the Gate).
The Electoral Matters Committee will commence public hearings for its inquiry into the conduct of the 2018 Victorian state election.
A coronial inquest will begin into the shooting death of Vlado Micetic during a Melbourne traffic stop.
“Serial climate change protester” Eric Serge Herbert will appear in court charged with causing an obstruction as a pedestrian.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources will launch a week-long conference.