Payne defends press freedom overseas, silent on AFP raids

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has defended her attendance at an international conference on media freedom, in the wake of federal police raids on journalists in Australia, saying she’s in a “no-win” situation.

Jul 11, 2019, updated Jul 11, 2019
Marise Payne has been accused of hypocrisy over defending media freedom. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Marise Payne has been accused of hypocrisy over defending media freedom. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

The foreign minister was at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on Wednesday with her international counterparts, journalists and civil groups.

Her visit came amid concern about press freedoms in Australia after police raided two media outlets, requested a reporter’s travel records from Qantas and accessed the metadata of journalists 58 times.

Labor accused Senator Payne of hypocrisy, with a statement from senators Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally saying the minister needs to show her commitment by taking action back in Australia.

Senator Payne denied she was being hypocritical, saying she was in a “no-win” situation because she would be criticised if she did not attend the conference.

“I would imagine that if Australia was not represented at a conference like today, then you would say that the government wasn’t doing their job by being here,” she told reporters in London on Wednesday.

“So I suspect you would advance a position where a government was in a no-win situation.”

The foreign minister told the conference’s plenary session that Australia condemned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Senator Payne also talked about how she raised the plight of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar with leaders in that country in December.

But she did not mention Australian Federal Police raids on the News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s home or the ABC headquarters, or their requesting of ABC journalist Dan Oakes’ private travel records.

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The foreign minister also did not make any mention of the AFP accessing journalists’ metadata 58 times in one year.

“While Australia ranks relatively highly on the World Press Freedom Index, we recognise that a sensible balance needs to be reached between protecting our national interest in the face of ever-evolving security challenges and upholding the public’s right to know,” Senator Payne told the conference session.

She said that was why a parliamentary committee was looking into law enforcement, intelligence and press freedom.


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