Is a Charter of Rights and Press Freedom Home Affairs?

this article is interesting. It is from the Human Rights Centre in Melbourne.  I note the comment below as particularly in the public interest, as follows:

Promoting press freedom

Another issue receiving media coverage over the last few weeks has been press freedom.

We can’t have public debates about government policies if those policies are kept secret. That’s why it was so alarming when police conducted a raid on journalist Annika Smethurst who had uncovered Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs controversial plans to spy on Australian citizens.

A thriving democracy needs an independent, free and fierce media to keep us informed about important issues and to help keep our politicians honest. 

In mid April, the High Court ruled that the police raid on journalist Annika Smethurst was invalid.

I am particularly concerned about ASIO being housed in Home Affairs and located at the peoples Parliament.  Given the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance and the clear experimentation of filming through lights, having data passed to intelligence agencies and the recent app to be downloaded to tell people if a person has COVID-19, appears to be about practicing tracking individuals of interest.  What if the person is set up and then vilified as a Person of Interest and for people to let them know if this person comes up on the app, not unlike the film The Circle when the heads of a silicon valley type IT company do a world wide search for a felon or lost friend. This gets the world involved in the tracking on the basis of a suggestion, we cannot know if that is accurate or not. It is certainly not a court of law, but trial via authority figures using technology to control the public one way or the other.  I have real concerns about the surveillance of civilians and I am using less technology as a result.  I will do my best to not use it.  I feel the surveillance state (capitalism) is far worse than Communist Russia was, makes them look like Cossacks dancing as a technological comparison (note – no comparison). The Chinese are implementing these technologies with social credit schemes of ‘compliant’ citizens and those who score low (non compliance). This is problematic given those in power may not be ethical, honest or on the payroll of some other power broker. It renders the public unsafe and restricted in their freedoms.  That is my concern.

Dear susan,

In responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Australian governments have acted to fill many of the gaps in the services we all rely on.

In education, resources have been devoted to ensure schools can educate remotely, and a number of state governments have provided laptops and other devices to allow students to participate. Pre-school early childhood education has been made free for working parents, and some post-school technical education courses have been provided online for free to boost training.

Our health system now has bulk-billing for tele-health consultations with doctors and some specialists, and there have been funding boosts for hospitals and mental health. Our social safety net has also been strengthened, with a doubling of income support payments and expanded crisis accommodation in some cities to try to ensure every homeless person has somewhere safe to sleep.

These decisions, based on expert advice or advocacy by civil society groups, are welcome. But there are still some gaps, such as for migrant workers and people seeking asylum. These improvements also need to be permanent because there still will be a need for them.

We’re at our best when we ensure that everyone benefits from the services that make our communities flourish. An Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms can ensure there is full access and resourcing for health, education, and other services that we all rely on.

As this crisis subsides, the calls for a Charter will escalate so that after the pandemic we can have better services and improved government policy making – all of the time.

Promoting press freedom

Another issue receiving media coverage over the last few weeks has been press freedom.

We can’t have public debates about government policies if those policies are kept secret. That’s why it was so alarming when police conducted a raid on journalist Annika Smethurst who had uncovered Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs controversial plans to spy on Australian citizens.

A thriving democracy needs an independent, free and fierce media to keep us informed about important issues and to help keep our politicians honest.

In mid April, the High Court ruled that the police raid on journalist Annika Smethurst was invalid.

While this is good news, there is an unfortunate sting in the tail – the Court decision was essentially a ruling about a technical police failure to write their own warrant correctly and it doesn’t stop future police raids on journalists reporting in the public interest.

This was followed by another worrying development.

Reporters Without Borders released the annual World Press Freedom Index, which saw Australia drop five positions to 26th place in the world, behind New Zealand, Ireland, Germany and Latvia.

It’s clear that press freedom is not protected well enough in this country. But together, we can push for change. 

The journalists’ union MEAA, and the broader Right to Know Alliance, are leading the call for new laws to protect journalists and whistleblowers. These changes to the law are essential and the Human Rights Law Centre and many other other organisations are fully supportive of the calls.

There is another broader change to ensure we all benefit from press freedom – a Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

A right to free expression can ensure that alongside specific laws protecting journalists and whistleblowers there is a broad, enduring right that adapts to changes in technology and processes. It also provides balance should laws in the future be proposed that may restrict press freedom in ways unimaginable today.

Thank you for being part of this campaign. Our commitment to human rights needs to be just as strong in good times and bad, so I’m glad people like you make sure human rights principles aren’t lost in all the noise of political debate.

Thanks again and speak soon,

Daney Faddoul
Campaign Manager, Human Rights Law Centre