Interview with Patricia Karavelas- ABC RN Drive – Monday, 16 March 2015






SUBJECT/S: Prime Minister back down on press freedom

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister has decided to give into media and Labor demands to protect journalist sources under the proposed new metadata retention laws. It is the latest policy backflip from the Government. Joining me now is Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Welcome to RN Drive. 


KARVELAS: The PM made three demands and he wanted them met by Labor at 5pm to change this. Have you met all three?

CLARE: This is good news. The Prime Minister has backed down. As I said to you when we spoke two weeks ago this was one of the big areas of disagreement between the Government and the Opposition on these data retention laws. We thought that journalists deserved special protection under this legislation and that law enforcement agencies should have to get a warrant before they could access a journalist’s metadata to identify their sources and the Government disagreed. The Prime Minister has backed down. That’s a good thing.

What we’ve said to the Prime Minister this afternoon is that we need to see the details of those amendments but subject to seeing those amendments and the Government consulting with Australian media organisations, as well as going through our internal Caucus process tomorrow morning, we’ll work with the Government constructively to see the legislation passed.        

KARVELAS: So Jason Clare you’ve asked for an extension to make sure that your Caucus is ok with it and that you can see the details. Does this mean that the Opposition will agree to discontinuing the further inquiry which was going to look at journalist sources?   

CLARE: It depends upon whether we can reach agreement with the Government on the details of this amendment. The UK Government passed similar legislation two weeks ago to give journalists similar protection. That’s a template for the Government to work on. We’ve said to the Government this afternoon that they need to get cracking on drafting this amendment and they should do that in consultation with the Australian media organisations that are concerned about this, and that includes the ABC and SBS. 

KARVELAS: You mentioned consulting with the journalists union the MEAA, they’ve already put out a statement in the last hour saying that they don’t think this back down is actually good enough. Given that they are not happy, they don’t think this is protecting journalists to the extent they expected, does that mean that you are willing to support their position and hold off until you get the right kind of support for journalists in the laws.

CLARE: Our view has always been, I expressed it on the program a fortnight ago that we think the warrant approach is the best approach – that an independent, judicial officer needs to sign off on law enforcement agencies being able to access a journalist’s metadata to identify their sources. There are different views in the media about what the best approach is. In the submission that the media organisations put to the Committee a couple of weeks ago, their first option was a blanket ban on law enforcement agencies getting access to a journalist’s metadata. Their second option was a warrant. Their third option was internal approval by the Commissioner of the Federal Police or equivalent.

The Government always though that option three was satisfactory, we didn’t. We thought that the UK model, a warrant based model, is the best one. You are right Patricia, there will be some people that will argue there should be a blanket ban. Labor’s position has been consistent.                

KARVELAS: What’s your definition of a journalist, because it’s blurry, freelancers, independent journalist’s, people who publish online now who call themselves journalists, who gets protection?     

CLARE: The starting point here would be your standard definitions that you already find in legislation for the purposes of journalist shield laws. We’re happy to talk to the Government about this. Our intention here wouldn’t necessarily be to protect bloggers. We want to protect individual investigative journalists for the sort of organisations that are represented in the Press Gallery here. I don’t think that’s a deal breaker. I think that sensible work can be done to get the definition right.      

KARVELAS: What about protections for citizens regarding data retention. Some of our listeners have been flooding me with messages saying why all this focus on journalists rights by Labor and not the rights of ordinary people. How do you respond to that?

CLARE: It’s a fair point and if you are not a journalist you are looking at this wondering why the conversation is focused here. My answer would be that journalists are different. The privacy of their sources is integral to freedom of the press and that’s why we have special laws for journalists. That’s why we have shield laws. Sometimes it’s who the journalist spoke to that’s more important than what was said in the conversation. And as you’d know Patricia, sometimes journalists are investigating the investigators. They are investigating the people that might try and seek access to their metadata. That’s why the UK Government, as one example, has decided that there should be a special warrant based process, an independent approval process before law enforcement and national security agencies can access their data.        

KARVELAS: The Prime Minister is keen to get this all passed by the end of the week. Is Labor looking to pass this by the end of the week as he’s demanded?

CLARE: What the Prime Minister’s asked for is to see the bill passed through the House of Representatives this week and Senate next week. We will work constructively with the Government to assist in that regard, but we need to make sure that we get this amendment right. I think that members of the different Australian media organisations would want us to do that and I think the general public would want us to do that as well.  

KARVELAS: Now under a warrant process media companies want to ensure that they were contestable and not a kind of tick and flick kind of idea. Are you keen to ensure that it’s not just a tick and flick and that there is the ability of media companies to resist this when they think they are being targeted for all the wrong reasons? 

CLARE: We certainly wouldn’t want it to be tick and flick. The whole purpose of having a judge, an independent judicial officer test the application is so that it is done independently and that a warrant is only issued when it is appropriate. My understanding of the warrant process as it works generally is they are not contestable but what I’d recommend to Australian media organisations, is this is an issue they need to sit down and talk to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General about it as they go about the business of drafting this amendment.      

KARVELAS: So will you meet again with the MEAA and other media companies that have been lobbying on this Jason Clare? 

CLARE: Yes, I expect to. We have been having a lot of consultation with Australia’s media organisations about this over the past few months and we’ve been in lockstep in arguing the case to the Government that what they were proposing in this bill was not good enough and that we do need a warrant based process. 

I’m glad that finally the Prime Minister has backed down. This could have been done a little earlier but we will take it. Now we need to make sure we get the amendment right.      

KARVELAS: Last question, has the Government ensured that they will give you detail in time for your Caucus meeting, your deliberations there to get it through your Caucus tomorrow?   

CLARE: What we’ve got is the agreed positon of the Government to move amendments to provide for warrants to access journalist’s metadata. I think it will take a number of days before we see the details of that amendment.    

KARVELAS: So in principal you are going to ask your Caucus to support this? 

CLARE: We’ve got very, very strong views inside the Caucus – 

KARVELAS: I know, which is why I’m intrigued. 

CLARE: Members of Caucus hold these views as strongly as I do and that is if a law enforcement agency want to get access to a journalist’s metadata to identify their sources they need to get a warrant. The Government has agreed to that and tomorrow we will be advising the Caucus that they have agreed to that. We will need to see the details of that amendment. And as I said I expect that we will probably see that over the course of the next few days.  

KARVELAS: Jason Clare thank you so much for joining us on RN Drive again.

CLARE: Pleasure, thanks Patricia.