The campaign, called Your Right To Know, was stepped up on Monday with major newspapers publishing “redacted” front pages and media outlets uniting to seek six law reforms to curb the suppression of information.
National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said the royal commission into aged care was an example of the need for transparency in business and government because the inquiry only came after the disclosure of abuse.
“We wouldn’t be having an aged care royal commission if it wasn’t for people filming secretly,” he said.
“We need freedom for people to provide evidence to inquiries such as the royal commission into aged care and the banking royal commission.”
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said the problem was not always the law that limited the press but the laws that prevent departments and agencies releasing information.
Mr Yates said examples of abuse against the elderly could not be revealed in some situations because the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner was subject to laws restricting this disclosure.
“Our view is that the law ought to be changed so that the commissioner has the default right if the commissioner believes it is important that the public knows things have happened,” Mr Yates said.
“I think the default view in aged care, traditionally, has been that the department and the providers have been too close.
“The aged care system has not had a culture of transparency and openness,” he said.
Changes the media industry wants
- The right to challenge a warrant to be used for a police raid against a journalist
- Exemptions for journalists from some national security laws
- Stronger protections for public sector whistleblowers
- A more open approach to Freedom of Information
- Curbs on the government stamping papers as “secret” to prevent their release
- Defamation law reform
The media industry is seeking six changes including the right to challenge a warrant to be used for a police raid against a journalist, exemptions for journalists from some national security laws, stronger protections for public sector whistleblowers, a more open approach to Freedom of Information, curbs on the government stamping papers as “secret” to prevent their release, and defamation law reform.
Michael Fraser, a Queensland advocate for workers who suffered wage theft, said greater disclosure made it harder for abuses to continue.
“Workers and consumers are the ultimate losers when regulators choose to quietly admonish companies behaving badly. The bad conduct must be made public for change to happen,” he said.
“It is dangerous to live in a world where the suppression of important information leads to different consumer behaviours.
“Making ethical and fair choices is impossible without press freedom.”
While the campaign gained public support on Monday, it made no immediate headway in Parliament with the two major parties in dispute over which had done more for press freedom.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to rule out the prosecution of ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark and NewsCorp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst after police raids in June over their reports on national security.
Asked by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in question time whether he believed journalism was not a crime, Mr Morrison said he agreed with the proposition but also believed that nobody was above the law.
“They should only be prosecuted if indeed they have been found to be falling foul of the law,” he said.
“And I do not believe that those decisions about who should be prosecuted at the end of the day should be made on the whim of politicians.”
The answer was at odds with statements by Attorney-General Christian Porter that he would be “seriously disinclined” to sign off on the criminal prosecution of journalists.
Mr Albanese said it was unacceptable for the three journalists to face the risk of prosecution. He countered the call for defamation law reform, saying the law was important to ensuring accurate reporting.
“I think it is it is important that the public have a right to know information which affects them,” Mr Albanese said.
He also cited Labor’s record of reforming Freedom of Information law to allow greater disclosure.
Mr Kirkland cited a report by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last week, which mentioned poor insurance offerings in superannuation funds, as proof of the value of whistleblowers who spoke to journalist Adele Ferguson of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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