The John Howard government has continued to beef up its arsenal of anti-terror laws, some of which represent a threat to journalists’ capacity to protect their sources of information and to freedom of expression.
The adoption by the Senate, in March 2006, of the law on interception of communications increased the risks of anti-terror legislation being used abusively against the press. The law allows phone tapping without any real judicial control of journalists investigating terrorism or organised crime cases. The 2005 anti-terror law has already been used to force journalists to give information to police or the courts.
Two reporters on the Herald Sun are still facing prison sentences for refusing to reveal their sources for a report on a controversial decision by the conservative government. In August, a court rejected their appeal, after refusing to recognise their right to protect their sources.
Another setback in 2006 was the High Court’s refusal in September to allow a journalist access to documents on the Australian government’s tax policy. The Australian Press Council condemned the decision which it said would give the authorities a “fresh impetus to suppress information that is embarrassing or politically inconvenient”. In February, the government also banned the press from freely covering the arrival in the country of Papuan refugees. Generally speaking, numerous restrictions are imposed on journalists wanting to cover the plight of people in Australia’s camps for asylum-seekers.