ABC Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly
Subjects: Police raids; Religious Freedoms
FRAN KELLY: Earlier in the program, we were talking about the police raid yesterday on the home of political journalist, News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. There's been widespread condemnation of that police raid. Police say they were seeking information regarding a story published in April last year, in which the journalist detailed Government plans for new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate. The Home Affairs Department and the Minister Peter Dutton say this investigation is a matter for the Australian Federal Police. Earlier we spoke with Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick, he's accusing the Coalition of using police to intimidate journalists, and he's questioning the timing of the raid.
REX PATRICK: The whole raid raises a number of questions. So for example, as you mentioned, the referral was 14 months ago. I'm very concerned that the timing of this is immediately after an election.
[End of excerpt]
FRAN KELLY: That's Senator Rex Patrick, joining us on Breakfast early this morning. That interview is available on our website.
Well, Christian Porter is the Federal Attorney-General. Attorney-General, welcome back to Breakfast.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thanks, Fran. Excuse the voice, touch of the flu.
FRAN KELLY: I understand. We're supposed to have a free press here in this country, why are the police raiding a journalist's home and staying there for seven and a half hours? All because she wrote a story the Government didn't like.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well perhaps I'll just first address the accusation from Senator Patrick that somehow the raid is a deliberate use of the Government to intimidate a journalist or that the timing of it has been structured by the government, or demanded, or required, or orchestrated by the Government. That is just utterly untrue. This is an investigation from the AFP, it is done completely independent of executive government, but I'm happy to answer what questions I can. But I haven't received yet a briefing on it myself. I had no idea it was going to happen, and that's because these matters are totally independent of the executive government.
FRAN KELLY: So you didn't know this raid was going to happen? Did any other Minister's office or Minister know it was going to happen?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it's usually the case that in matters that are sensitive - and clearly this is - that there'll be a quick briefing to alert someone that it's going to happen, when they’re the responsible Minister, so I would guess, but it would only be a guess, that the Minister for Home Affairs would have had such a heads up immediately beforehand. But the idea, seriously, that the Morrison Government or any minister in the Morrison Government was somehow involved in the investigation, or the decision, or the timing of the decision, I mean it's absolutely absurd. And that's not to say that there might not be …
FRAN KELLY: What do you make then of the police raid happening 14 months after the referral?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I just I can't comment on that. There might be, I mean, I've worked for many years as a prosecutor and there might be any number of reasons why investigations take certain turns at certain points of time. Information might have been uncovered or have come in - I can't comment to that. But there might be any number of reasons why things in an investigation happen some time after the investigation was commenced, that is not at all unusual. This is not to say that the natural debate that happens in circumstances like this is unwarranted or unexpected, totally accept that that's the case. But I do want to just note that accusations like the ones that Senator Rex Patrick made are absolutely absurd.
FRAN KELLY: Well, just on the Senator Patrick's accusations, he says he wants to raise three matters in the Parliament. One is the timing, we've talked about. He said another is, what, the steps were taken prior to this and he said - he posited this is perhaps an explanation for the delay. He said that perhaps there was an effort by the police to chase the source via what's called a journalist information warrant, which gives access to metadata and the test for that - the burden for seeking a warrant for that is higher. You have to get a warrant referred by the public interest advocate, which is appointed by the Prime Minister. He's wondering did the police try and didn't meet that level of burden of proof or accusation. Do you know that?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: I don't have information about that at all. So, I mean, these are questions that Rex Patrick may want to ask in Parliamentary contexts, of course. But wouldn't you want to ask the question and have answers to it before you go out and make these serious accusations of that nature. But look, this is an information gathering exercise by the...
FRAN KELLY: ….seven and a half hours in a journalist's house.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, again, police will have their reasons for conducting a warrant in a certain way. But the investigation is, as I understand it, under the very long standing provision of the Crimes Act that relates to the official misuse of unauthorised or information, so an unauthorised disclosure of the information by an official to a third party. So the investigation, if I can summarise in broad terms, is not about the journalist per se, it's about someone who may or may not have made an unauthorised disclosure against the terms of a very well-known provision of the Crimes Act to a third party. Now, the fact that the warrant was executed on the journalist's house, as you've noted, it's going to be a matter for some public comment and debate, but that is not a warrant executed by the government or the executive government, as such …
FRAN KELLY: Okay.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: It is a completely independent decision of the AFP.
FRAN KELLY: Just before we run out of time though, the Annika Smethurst story, the original story was about a government proposal or ministerial proposal, from some, to extend the powers of the cyber spy agency - the Australian Signals Directorate - to collect information on Australian citizens, would be a change of their brief. At the time, the Government dismissed the report as nonsense. If it was nonsense, why does this whole thing undermine national security?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, unauthorised disclosure of information might give rise to both accurate or inaccurate reporting, and particularly in circumstances of inaccurate reporting, that could have conceivably a bearing on national security, just as it could if it were accurate.
FRAN KELLY: Okay.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: ….So I can't comment directly on that, but the investigation is clearly about some potential individual or individuals in Government who've broken a well-known law that applies to civil servants, that you don't disclose national security information. Those accusations of Rex Patrick's are just ludicrous.
FRAN KELLY: It's three minutes to nine, our guest is the Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter. Christian Porter, just briefly, we're almost out of time, but on another matter that's in your brief, religious protections. When will we see your religious discrimination bill and will it be limited to expanding the anti-discrimination laws currently in place for age, sex, race.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: So we promised that we would do three things. There's a general omnibus bill which tidies up a range of issues such as clarifying whether or not in the Charities Act you could be excluded from being a charity for proposing the traditional definition of marriage, so we're going to tidy up those. That'll be largely uncontroversial. As you're aware, with respect particularly to the Sex Discrimination Act and the way it draws those boundaries between the rights of religious schools to deal with staff and students, and the rights of staff and students not to be discriminated against on the base of sexuality….We sent that issue particularly off to the Australian Law Reform Commission. But we have of course undertaken to deliver a religious discrimination bill into Parliament. The first sitting week of Parliament will be largely ceremonial, so whether it's during that week or subsequent weeks we'll determine shortly.
But that bill's well drafted and it just follows the basic architecture of discrimination bills. We define an attribute, in this case someone's religious qualities or indeed irreligious qualities - it will apply to people who don't believe in religion - and then we say that persons holding those attributes will be protected from certain behaviour in certain circumstances, again, just like the Race or Sex Discrimination Act. And then the third part of the Act will be a range of logical exceptions that you'll have to have. So it'll follow the very standard architecture of discrimination acts. But the principal is this …
FRAN KELLY: ….okay, just briefly.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: … is that people should - yeah, the principal is that if people should properly be protected from discrimination on the basis of their race or the fact that they have a disability or their age or their sex, why not also because of the fact that they hold a particular religious view?
FRAN KELLY: Okay. Christian Porter, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate your time.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thanks Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, and I guess when that comes in, he says it will be soon, the- a lot of the argument will be over what he described- as he defined there as logical exemptions.