Comment Australia isn’t just passing a spooks’ charter: it’s creating a regime in which journalists would be as much at risk as the whistle-blowers whose efforts they chronicle.
Here’s the bill, and here’s the explanatory memorandum.
In spite of Attorney-General George Brandis’ insistence that the government doesn’t intend to target journalists with the laws, the legislation itself certainly opens that possibility. For example, the legislation includes provisions “enabling the Minister responsible for Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to authorise the production of intelligence on an Australian person who is, or is likely to be, involved in activities that pose a risk to, or are likely to pose a risk to, the operational security of ASIS”.
If ASIS believes an operation has been leaked to a news outlet, it seems trivially easy to make the case that the recipient of the leak is an operational risk.
The new laws also introduce the notion of “special intelligence operations” (SIO). This is a new class of operation, protected by even stronger non-disclosure laws and offering penalties of five to ten years’ jail.