A free and informed media is vital

December 03, 2019

I rise tonight to pay tribute to our media industry. In an environment where our democratic rights are under attack, where we are governed increasingly by spin rather than substance, and under a government with a growing culture of secrecy, a free and informed media is vital. Media organisations in Australia have long been concerned about threats to journalistic freedoms. Police raids on journalists' homes and offices, tighter laws—with the excuse of national security—and the proliferation of fake news are all having an impact on how our media can operate. It's worth reminding ourselves of this quote from the Chicago Tribune:

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide.

Australia's Right to Know coalition has been formed by all of our major media outlets and many of our smaller operators. It has six key proposals for reforms that would strengthen rights and protections for public interest journalism:

The right to contest search warrants: Applications for search warrants to be made to a high-level judge, with the relevant media outlet to be notified and given the opportunity to challenge the warrant.

Protections for whistleblowers: Expanded safeguards for government whistleblowing, including an expanded public interest test. The outlets want to see a culture of secrecy replaced with a culture of disclosure.

Restrictions on secrecy: New rules governing what information governments can deem secret, with obligations to regularly audit the material being kept from the public.

Freedom of information reform: A suite of changes to FOI law to reduce and restrict the significant delays, obstacles, cost and exemptions that allow government agencies to prevent disclosure.

Journalist exemptions: Exemptions to protect journalists from prosecution under a number of national security laws. Media outlets can currently mount legal defences against charges under these laws but want this strengthened to exemptions for public-interest journalism.

Defamation law reform: Overhaul of defamation law to adapt to the digital era, address inconsistency across states territories, and ensure it is operating as intended.

As a former journalist, I'm passionate about supporting a free press that shines a light on matters we deserve to know about. We should take the time to recognise and celebrate the role and achievements of our media and media workers.

I'd like to pay tribute to some of those who have been recognised by their peers and the wider industry and community recently. Last week in Alice Springs, the annual First Nations Media Awards celebration was held, recognising excellence in all forms of media production. Around 150 guests travelled from communities in the Torres Strait, Kimberley and Pilbara regions, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Port Augusta, Arnhem Land, Lismore, Brisbane, Yuendumu and other remote Northern Territory communities, the Ngaanyatjarra lands, Canberra, Wilcannia and New Zealand to join local Alice Springs community members for the awards, which were held in conjunction with the CONVERGE conference.

Under the guidance of their new CEO, Arrernte and Anangu woman Catherine Liddle, First Nations Media Australia is going from strength to strength as a peak body advocating for the growing sector. That development is highlighted by the annual awards, where the scope and professionalism of the industry is on display. The First Nations Media Lifetime Achievement Award went to the legendary Freda Glynn. Freda is a founder of CAAMA and Imparja television. She was recognised for her vision to deliver essential information and news to communities in all the Central Australian Aboriginal languages—something that remains in action today, with CAAMA going from strength to strength in the heart of Australia under CEO Karl Hampton. In presenting the award, First Nations Media Australia Chair Dot West thanked Freda for her leadership, acknowledging that it was CAAMA that inspired and guided many of the communities around Australia to establish their own media organisations.

John Macumba, a frequent collaborator with Freda and one of the first Indigenous voices on the air, was recognised with the First Nations Media Legend Award. Wayne Bynder received the Outstanding Contributor Award in recognition of over 40 years of igniting passion for broadcasting across the Kimberley and generously sharing his knowledge across the industry. I commend all those nominees and all the outstanding winners of the First Nations Media Awards and all those who attended. I encourage senators to go online, have a look at the winners and see the calibre of our First Nations media industry and workers from right across the country who gathered in Alice Springs for that event.

I also want to specially mention and congratulate the journalists we have in the Northern Territory and thank them for the work they do in keeping government to account and telling stories for our audiences. We know times are tough in the media industry, with funding cuts and staff cuts. Journalists continue to do their job and in most cases do it well in this tough environment and against the odds. In that vein, I would like to congratulate the finalists and winners of the Northern Territory Media Awards, which were held in Darwin recently. ABC journalist Oliver Gordon was named the 2019 Journalist/Photojournalist of the Year. Gordon was acknowledged for his ABC Background Briefing investigation The Black and White Hotel: Inside Australia's Segregated Hotel Rooms and associated coverage of racial profiling at a hotel in Alice Springs. He also won Best Current Affairs or Feature. NT News journalist Phillippa Butt received the other top gong for the night, the Marchbanks Young Journalist of the Year 2019 award, for a body of work including a story she followed up after an anonymous tip that workers at a domestic violence shelter were being told to ignore mandatory reporting guidelines and water down abuse reports. Well done, Philippa.

The ABC's Jane Bardon took home three awards for her Background Briefinginvestigation Rough Justice: Can the NT keep its kids safe? as well as the Indigenous affairs reporting award for her and Owain Stia James' report Rough Justice: NLC investigation and Ngukurr's Panadol clinic.Congratulations to everyone and thank you for your hard work. Again, I urge senators to go online and have a look at our Northern Territory media awards and the nominees and category winners. They are exceptional and I congratulate all those who not only entered but who worked diligently across the Northern Territory to tell the stories that matter, not only to the people of the Northern Territory but to Australia and the international community.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Katie Woolf. She's a commercial radio announcer. Katie is an outstanding broadcaster, I believe, in terms of delivering not only the much needed information but also the debates, certainly the challenging debates, and interviews that can be quite interrogating, as they should be, of people in representative positions, whether they're in government, local government, local businesses or the general community. She is an incredible broadcaster. Along with the recipients of the NT Media Awards, Katie Woolf, for her successes, took home the Brian White Award for radio journalism for a non-metro area at the Australian Commercial Radio Awards in Brisbane. She was also a finalist in the Best Talk Presenter category. Katie Woolf is a regular fixture on the Darwin commercial radio scene, hosting 360 with Katie Woolf on weekdays from 9 am on Mix 104.9. She's a voice for Territorians, making sure local issues get the coverage that they deserve. I'm certain that many, many senators and members from the House who have been to Darwin have had the chance of being interrogated by Katie Woolf up there in the Top End. I certainly congratulate her and all of those who stand in the media industry to keep us—the people in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, in local governments and in state governments—accountable and responsible to the people of our respective state and territory jurisdictions and the people of Australia. They uphold an important tool for effective democracy in our country.

SENATE ADJOURNMENT SPEECH Tuesday, 3 December 2019

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