12 June 2019

I don’t often agree with The Australian’s Legal Affairs editor, Chris Merritt, but he is spot on in his column today: “It might sound counterintuitive, but when parliament considers its response to police raids against the media, greater protection for journalists does not need to be the main game. … After the events of last week, there is little doubt that this system is covering up matters that, while embarrassing, could have been made public without harming the nation’s security. … The real harm from excessive secrecy has nothing to do with the media. It can deprive the community of information about government conduct that is necessary for the proper functioning of democracy. Once officials classify material as secret, its unauthorised disclosure is a criminal offence, regardless of whether it should never have been secret in the first place.” Merritt calls for stricter classification guidelines, increased resourcing of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, and more scrutiny by independent officers and judges at all stages of the process — but he’s right that a review of what is kept secret and why is the most important issue.