National Press Club Address
The Slippery Slope: How eroding freedoms impacts people and press
13 September 2019
Caption: Arthur Moses SC, Sabra Lane, Dr Matt Collins AM, QC, sourced by the National Press Club.
This year’s AFP raids on journalists and media outlets, teamed with the introduction of multiple pieces of national security legislations, have served to highlight the creeping erosion of the human rights and freedoms we take for granted in Australia.
Last week, Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, and Victorian Bar President, Dr Matt Collins AM QC, presented at the National Press Club about these encroachments in an address titled The Slippery Slope: How eroding freedoms impacts people and press.
Mr Moses SC said: “Australia is in dire need of a national discussion about the importance of human rights and freedoms in our country”. He also emphasised how a raft of national security laws introduced since 9/11 posed a large threat to press freedom and personal liberties.
Mr Moses SC said there was an urgent need for greater scrutiny of legislation passed by Federal Parliament, pointing to the important role of the press as the Fourth Estate.
“This year’s media raids shone a powerful light on the limits of freedoms – of people and of the press – in Australia,” Mr Moses SC said.
“The Law Council has said that all national security and secrecy legislation should be reviewed and reconsidered to ensure it is appropriately calibrated.
“While protecting our community must always be a priority for the government, this must be considered in conjunction with potential impacts on human rights and freedoms.”
Dr Collins AM QC shared his insights regarding Australia’s defamation laws.
He said, while London was traditionally known as the libel capital of the world, Australia had stolen the crown.
“In Australia, we inherited the English common law and then made it worse,” Dr Collins said.
“Until 2005, when uniform national defamation laws were passed, there were differences between the defamation laws of the six Australian states and two territories, with the result that there were things you could say on Collins Street, Melbourne that you could not say on Pitt Street, Sydney.
“Those problems were overcome when we achieved uniformity in 2005, but the laws we passed then were a pragmatic compromise, and not a very coherent one at that.”