Government Announces Proposed Amendments to National Security Bill To Address Journalist Concerns

Thursday 8 March 2018 @ 10.51 a.m. | Crime | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

Attorney-General Christian Porter has issued a Media Release  on 5 March 2018, announcing that the Government has devised a number of amendments to National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 (Cth) (the Bill).  The amendments address issues that have been raised by submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Committee (the PJCIS Committee), which is currently considering the Bill. The Government hopes that these amendments ensure it will strike the correct balance between keeping Australia safe and not impeding the work of journalists and media organisations.

For more information on the Bill, see TimeBase’s previous article on this topic.  


After initially being introduced to the House of Representatives on 7 December 2017 by Mr Turnbull, the Bill is currently before the House of Representatives where it is awaiting further discussion.

This Bill is the part of a five-year process of modernising Australia’s national security laws which the Government believes is vital to protect Australians. 

The Proposed Changes

The Attorney-General also noted in his Media Release that he has:

“… been carefully considering the issues raised by media organisations and others to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to devise a series of amendments to improve the Bill … I have met directly with a range of key stakeholders, including representatives of Australia's major media organisations to ensure the proposed amendments address central concerns raised by the stakeholders … Considering and making amendments to national security legislation reflects the process that has been followed for the nine tranches of national security laws passed since 2014, which have seen 273 Government amendments to those Bills, including 125 recommended by the PJCIS. These amendments have been provided to the PJCIS during its inquiry into the Bill to ensure it can consider them before it delivers its report later this month.  It is expected the inquiry process, as has been the case with the other nine tranches of national security legislation, will make further recommendations for drafting improvements which the Government will consider in due course.”

Concern Over Media Restrictions

Mr Porter said there has been no intention to unnecessarily restrict appropriate freedoms of the media and that where drafting improvements are identified that strike a better balance, the Government will promote those changes.

Overview of the Proposed Amendments

The proposed amendments to Schedule 2 of the Bill (which also include amendments to the Crimes Act 1914 and the Criminal Code Act 1995), will:

  • create separate offences that apply to non-Commonwealth officers that are narrower in scope than those applying to Commonwealth officers and only apply to most dangerous and serious conduct;
  • narrow the definitions of inherently harmful information and causes harm to Australia's interests, which will form part of the offences applying to Commonwealth officers;
  • strengthen the defence for journalists at s 122.5(6) [of the Criminal Code Act 1995] by;
    • removing any requirement for journalists to demonstrate that their reporting was “fair and accurate”;
    • ensuring the defence is available where a journalist reasonably believes that their conduct was in the public interest; and
    • clarifying that the defence is available for editorial and support staff as well as journalists themselves.

The amendments also address a number of other concerns including the definition of security classification [in the Criminal Code Act 1995], the breadth of the offence at section 91.3 [also the Criminal Code Act 1995] and the application of strict liability to elements of the offence relating to security classified information.

What's Next?

The next public hearing for the Bill is proposed for 16 March 2018, with the Committee expected to present its report in April 2018. To date, more than 40 submissions relating to the proposed amendments have been received by the Committee.

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Amendments to Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill - Media Release

Submissions received by the Committee - Submissions and Public Hearings

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