Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News AM Agenda – Wednesday 4 March 2015






SUBJECT/S: Prime Minister’s back down on press freedom

KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister has agreed to amend data retention laws in an attempt to ensure journalists are protected from agencies trying to identify their sources.

I’m joined live by the Shadow Communications Minister, Jason Clare. Mr Clare the Independent Senator Nick Xenophonsays that the Government and Labor for that matter are not going far enough with just requiring a warrant. He wants a US style approach that would require agencies to inform journalists when their metadata is being accessed and to give media outlets a chance to contest those warrants before a judge.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: First I want to say this is a good result. It’s a victory for journalists and it’s a victory for Bill Shorten. We’ve been arguing for warrants for months now. Our position has been consistent. We think that journalists should be protected and law enforcement agencies should have to seek a warrant before they can get access to their telecommunications data.

Now that’s not the case at the moment. At the moment a law enforcement agency can get access to a journalist’s metadata. It can get access to your metadata without going to the court. We think the standard should be raised. The British Government has passed legislation through their Parliament two weeks ago to require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant. We think that’s the template that should be adopted and we have argued that Tony Abbott should do this. He’s refused to budge until yesterday. Yesterday he caved in. I think that’s a good thing. We will now work with the Government and with the crossbenchers on the details of that amendment.    

GILBERT: Senator Xenophon says the amendment means journalists doing their job will still be in the firing line of law enforcement. What do you say to that?

CLARE: Once again, let’s work on the details of the amendment with the Government, with the crossbenchers. At the moment as I say –

GILBERT: So are you open to the US style approach that would require media outlets and journalists to be told and then give them a chance to contest that before a judge?

CLARE: This is a question that media organisations asked yesterday. My understanding is at the moment when you apply for a warrant at a court there is no contestability. But this is a question that should be asked of the Government. They should sit down and work through the details of this amendment with George Brandis and Tony Abbott.    

GILBERT: Ok so you are open to it? You are open to this US approach because Xenophon says this is only a formality. The Federal Police will go to a judge, get it ticked and then your sources are exposed.  

CLARE: We don’t want a tick and flick approach, we want to protect journalists. Journalists are different, unless you can protect their sources it undermines freedom of the press. That’s why we fought so hard for this. It’s why Bill Shorten has been writing to Tony Abbott, asking him to change his mind. He has been intractable until now. Yesterday he caved in, that’s a good thing. Let’s work to get this amendment right.         

GILBERT: So this is just a first step then because the British model might not be strong enough according to your view that you don’t just want a tick and flick? 

CLARE: Remember, twenty-four hours ago we didn’t have anything. The Prime Minister was of the mind that you didn’t need a warrant at all. We have finally convinced him that he was wrong. I think that the prospect of – 

GILBERT: He actually hasn’t admitted that he was wrong.

CLARE:  That’s true. 

GILBERT: He doesn’t believe that he’s wrong.

CLARE: No he thinks it’s not necessary but I think he was terrified at the prospect on Friday, of a public hearing with the Chief Executives of Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel 10, News Limited and Fairfax all attacking the Prime Minister and telling him he was wrong and so he caved in. Now let’s get the amendment right.

GILBERT: Because I think they will probably attack Labor’s approach so far in the sense that this does not go as far as the media outlets want and that is contestability.

CLARE: To be fair the media organisations put forward three options. One a blanket ban on access to a journalist’s metadata, option two, a warrant based process and option three, internal approval by a senior officer in the law enforcement agency.

The Government said option three was OK. Media organisations said it was totally unacceptable in their view. We said option two, the British model is the way to go but there will always be people who will want a blanket ban. We don’t think that’s the right approach and we’ve been consistent in arguing for a warrant.  

GILBERT: So you want the British model not the American model, that’s your approach which as I say nick Xenophon believes it does not go far enough, the media outlets believe that goes far enough either. So you are not going to placate them. 

CLARE: What we’ve said yesterday is that the Government needs to come forward with an amendment now. Negotiate that with the crossbenchers, with Australian media organisations and with the Opposition. Let’s get this amendment right.  

GILBERT: Why shouldn’t there be contestability and give the journalists a chance or the media outlet to argue before a judge that their source should not be divulged or exposed.

CLARE: This is a question that George Brandis is going to have to make a decision on. As I say there is no contestability for warrants at the moment but if media organisations think this is important then they should put the case to the Government in their preparation of these amendments. 

GILBERT: We are almost out of time, just quickly on the cross media laws. Do you see any scope for compromise on the anti-syphoning, list of sporting events which currently restricts the amount that can be broadcast via subscription television and protects the rights for free-to-airs.

CLARE: Whenever you get involved in media reform, media ownership reform or anti-syphoning, it’s a mind field and you put one foot wrong and you get blown up. So Malcolm Turnbull needs to tread very carefully here. It seems like he’s put together an options paper or a proposal to Tony Abbott and now it’s been leaked. I don’t know whether Tony Abbott has leaked it to put pressure on Malcolm Turnbull or Malcolm Turnbull has leaked it to put pressure on Tony Abbott but we haven’t seen it and we will wait until we see the details of the proposal and analyse it on its merits.   

GILBERT: Mr Clare thanks for your time.

CLARE: Thank you.