03:30 GMT30 October 2020
Listen Live
    Asia & Pacific
    Get short URL

    The Asia-Pacific country has legislated more heavily against subversion of its national security in last two decades than any other democratic state.

    Plans by the Australian Government to introduce laws restricting the reporting and handling of information sensitive to the country's "national interests" has been condemned by universities, religious leaders and legal professional groups as a danger to freedom of the press.

    New legislation being brought before the Parliament in Canberra was prompted by revelations in December 2017 of improper contact between Australia Labor politician Sam Dastyari and a Chinese-government linked businessman who he advised on how to avoid surveillance by Australian security agencies. Initially, the legislation was intended to crack down on foreign donations to Australian political parties The Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill 2017 however contains new far-reaching offenses that even the country's intelligence agencies have warned may put its members at legal risk due to the vagueness of the language involved.

    Morry Bailes, the president of the Law Council of Australia said in his submission statement to the Joint Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, "the breadth of the key term 'national security' extending to the country's political or economic relations with another country or countries may have a stifling effect on freedom of expression."

    The bill criminalizes actions against the country's "national security, military capabilities, alliance relationships and Australia's economic and political stability." Of particular concern to observers has been the publication and even receiving and handling of information pertaining to Australia's "national interest."

    On January 30, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported details of classified government documents from the previous Labor Government which were mistakenly left in a filing cabinet. Even while reporting the story, the ABC admitted that it could not be sure it was not in violation of current national security legislation regarding classified documents.

    54 pieces of national security legislation have been passed in the country since 9/11, more than any other first world country. Australia, unlike its other former English cousins such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand, has developed without a canon of enshrined democratic rights, having been originally founded as a penal colony for deported criminals and political dissidents in Britain in the late 18th century. As yet there still exists no bill of rights or other document enshrining protections for freedom of speech or of the press or a right to privacy and freedom from indefinite detention.     

    READ MORE: Oops! Top Secret Docs Reportedly Found in Second-hand Shop


    Australia Gunning for Spot Among World’s Top Arms Exporters
    Australia Sees Lack of 'Ethical Foundation' in Artificially Intelligent Drones
    Australia Plans to Become World-Leading Arms Exporter by 2028
    Second Group of Refugees Leaves Manus Under Australia-US Resettlement Deal
    Legislation, National Security, Freedom of Press, anti-terrorism legislation, Sam Dastyari, Australia, China, Canada, US, New Zealand
    Community standardsDiscussion