Lawyers want more changes to spying laws

By , 25/04/2020 19:35

Law Council of president Morry Bailes wants further amendments to spying legislation.Lawyers have joined the chorus of opposition to the federal government’s rewritten foreign interference and espionage laws, arguing changes haven’t gone far enough.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has proposed amendments to the legislation after fears were raised journalists and whistleblowers who reveal national secrets could face up to 20 years in jail.

But the Law Council of says there are still big concerns.

Council president Morry Bailes will outline these to a parliamentary committee examining the amended bill, which is intended to crack down on foreign interference in n politics.

He believes the definitions of national security and interference are too broad.

He also wants protections for whistleblowers who provide journalists with information.

“Amendments are required to ensure that the innocent receipt of information, for example in a filing cabinet, is not captured by the offence provisions,” Mr Bailes will tell the committee on Friday.

The law council is seeking a clearer definition of “news media”, raising questions over whether bloggers will be covered by the amendments.

Mr Bailes says offences should cascade in penalty and require a person knew or was reckless as to whether the protected information falls within a particular category.

It comes after Labor reiterated it wouldn’t accept the laws in their current form.

Earlier in the week, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus described the amendments as “clearly flawed”.

Media organisations including ABC, News Corp, Fairfax Media and AAP have made a submission to the committee, saying the rewritten laws could have a “chilling” effect on journalism.

“We continue to hold that a media exemption should be provided for public interest reporting,” it says.

“It is far preferable for a journalist to have to establish a public interest reporting exemption than to be forced to defend themselves in court against a formal charge.”

The media organisations will also appear at Friday’s hearing, along with the Human Rights Law Centre, ASIO and the attorney-general’s department.

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