An inquiry instigated after concerns were raised about the impact on the media of data retention legislation and law enforcement agencies’ access to journalists’ telecommunications data has formally been scrapped.
The Parliamentary Joint Intelligence and Security Committee today issued a short report after holding no public hearings on the matter.
The committee had been requested by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, to examine “how to deal with the authorisation of a disclosure or use of telecommunications data for the purpose of determining the identity of a journalist's source”.
The inquiry was launched in early March on the committee's own recommendation.
The committee scrapped a public hearing on 20 March at which media organisations had been scheduled to appear. Late last month the committee also ceased accepting submissions to the inquiry.
The decision to hold the inquiry was made before the government amended its data retention bill to introduce a system of journalist information warrants and a public interest advocate that scrutinises that scheme; measures that the government says will help prevent any deleterious impact on press freedom from the data retention regime.
In addition to those amendments, the public statement by the PJCIS announcing the inquiry’s cancellation says that the committee itself will be able to offer oversight journalist information warrants.
“The amendments also provide that information on the number of journalist information warrants and the number of authorisations issued under journalist information warrants are included in an annual report,” the inquiry’s brief report (PDF) adds.
“The amendments provide that the Committee may inquire into these matters in the annual report.”
The union representing journalists — the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) — as well as major Australian publishers had been vocal critics of the data retention bill, as well as aspects of the government’s earlier tranches of national security reform.
The government last month pushed through the data retention legislation with the support of Labor.