Australia's Federal Police enter the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the national public broadcaster, during a raid on their offices in Sydney, Australia. 

© 2019 Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP, File

(Sydney) – Problematic Australian national security provisions and sweeping law enforcement powers threaten free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch made a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom.

The issue has been a subject of public discussion since the June 2019 media raids on journalists working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and News Corp. But human rights activists, lawyers, whistle-blowers, and those who witness or speak out about government misconduct are also affected. Parliament should amend laws with problematic national security provisions and curtail expansive law enforcement powers, Human Rights Watch said.

“Australia needs stronger safeguards to protect disclosures made in the public interest,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Australian government should be careful to protect the country's democratic freedoms, especially the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

The problematic provisions include the revised espionage offenses and section 35P of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act (ASIO). Expansive powers for law enforcement under the metadata and encryption reforms, and the lack of protections for those disclosing information in the public interest reinforce this chilling effect, Human Rights Watch said.

“Authoritarian governments around the world use broadly drafted national security laws to silence human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and critics of the government,” Pearson said. “Australia should not join them by having overly broad laws on the books that are open to misuse.”