26 September 2023

Police directed to protect free speech

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The Minister for Home Affairs has issued a Ministerial Direction to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) directing it to consider the broader implications of their investigations into the unauthorised disclosure of classified material.

The Minister, Peter Dutton said the Direction outlined the Government’s expectations for the AFP in relation to investigations involving professional journalists or news media.

“This Ministerial Direction does not constrain investigation by the AFP of an unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer,” Mr Dutton said.

“A key function of the AFP is the enforcement of the criminal law, without exception. However, I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society.”

He said there was a need to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation.

“Where consistent with operational imperatives, I expect the AFP to exhaust alternative investigative actions prior to considering whether involving a professional journalist or news media organisation is necessary,” Mr Dutton said.

“I also expect the AFP to continue to seek voluntary assistance from professional journalists or news media organisations.”

Mr Dutton said he further expected the AFP to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required from Government Departments and Agencies when they are referring unauthorised disclosures.

“(The) referring Departments or Agencies will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security,” he said.

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