Broad clause in ‘foreign fighters’ bill could impact journalists and whistleblowers, say lawyers

25th Jul 2019

Journalists and whistleblowers could be adversely affected by the Counter Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019 that is now before the Senate, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“Once again, we can see national security laws being used to attack freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” said Mr Barns, barrister and spokesperson for the ALA.

The proposed law gives Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton unprecedented powers over the lives of individuals who the government says have been fighting against Western interests in countries like Syria and Iraq in recent years.

“This is alarming in itself but one clause in the Bill appears so broadly drafted that it could be used to prevent whistleblowers, journalists and others who reveal the secrets of the US, Australia and other allies in the so-called ‘war on terror’ from entering Australia,” said Mr Barns.

Clause 10 of the Bill gives Mr Dutton the power to prevent a person aged 14 or over from coming back to Australia for up to two years at a time on a number of grounds. One of those grounds is that 'the person has been assessed by [ASIO] to be directly or indirectly a risk to security … for reasons related to politically motivated violence'.

“This provision is extraordinarily broad,” said Mr Barns. “How exactly might ASIO think that a person is directly or indirectly a risk to security?

“When whistleblowers, media organisations and journalists have published information about misconduct in military operations in the past such exercises have been labelled as assisting terrorism.

“WikiLeaks, the Iraq War Logs, or the trove of materials that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden smuggled out in 2013 could all be considered an indirect risk to security and therefore Australian journalists involved in the publishing of these stories could be prohibited from entering Australia.

“This is extremely concerning over-reach and extends the impact of this Bill far beyond its stated intention.”

Tags: terrorism Freedom of media