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Adjournment - Media Freedom

31 October 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

 

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, media and press freedoms are crucial to a well-functioning democracy. They are part of the architecture that holds power to account. We need to have these important pillars of democracy unreasonably fettered. We need to ensure that we balance the freedom of the press with the rights of people to privacy and anonymity. We need to ensure that we do not live in a mass surveillance state where people are not free to make choices and are not free to take actions without fear of being followed and watched unreasonably so. They are eroding ever more quickly with the opportunity for facial recognition data through surveillance technology, which is truly frightening. The current is having a strong chilling effect on people who seek to provide us with the information that should be in the public domain. This is not just about press freedom.

The Right to Know campaign is incredibly important and came on the back of, amongst other things, the raid on the News Limited journalist Annika Smethurst and her work at the federal level to uncover uncomfortable truths that the federal Liberal government did not want to have uncovered. They were attacked by police entering and taking their material in a serious attack on press freedom in this country. People like me who have been to Central America in the 1980s and have seen people who have lived in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala where there truly were police states, violent police states in that time, came back to Australia and thought, 'Thank God I live here; this would never happen in Australia.'. That is what the people of Chile thought when Pinochet took over and they were wrong. That is what the people of Chile are facing today.

I note that the climate talks have been cancelled because of what is happening there, so we must always guard against moving towards over-weaning powers of our Government and the police. There is no doubt that we are in a digital age and maintaining anonymity is a hugely important basic human right for our expression and our privacy, both of with are under strong threat.

I want to draw members' attention to the current state of affairs in Australia where state and federal governments have approved the creation of a national database for facial recognition through merging drivers licences and passport photos to be uploaded as data. There was a huge outcry by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates about this and the fact that the benefits did not outweigh the intrusion into people's privacy.

Before the federal May election there was a memorandum of understanding struck between the Attorney-General's department and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to provide for a national facial biometric matching capability database. That is extremely concerning. This was an alarming MOU that gave capacity for massive scope creep. Point 3.4 of that MOU said that other face-matching services can be added over time. That gives huge scope for moving into where we are seeing China today, where people cannot move around and there are 20 cameras at the traffic lights flashing every person's movement as they drive around the place, catching every single movement a person makes, entering into and outside of their houses everywhere.

We have to guard against this. Peter Dutton's Home Affairs attempts to pass the Identity Matching Services Bill and the Passport Amendment Bill were struck down last week by the Joint Intelligence Committee and they so far are pushing back against this relentless pressure for mass surveillance. Tasmania has been implicated in this. We have been happy to be used as a guinea pig state for the federal government's national facial biometric matching capabilities. Shame on this Government for putting our citizens at risk in this state by being party to such a dirty trial of facial recognition surveillance technology for a mass intrusion into the rights of Tasmanians.

There are great risks. We were happy to go ahead with a trial in Tasmania, it seems. The Government thought it was worth giving it a go, anything for Peter Dutton's attempts to have control over the lives of Australians, all in the name of protecting us against terror, which is such an old hackneyed phrase that is now used as every excuse for bringing in extreme forms of surveillance.

The Greens will be watching and will keep standing up for this. We are the only party to do so. The Labor and Liberal parties are in lockstep on these surveillance laws at the federal level. The Labor Party is too weak to stand up to the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party is too intent on taking control of information to be able to thwart real peaceful protest like we are seeing outside the mining conference, where people peacefully protesting are being brutally attacked by the police who are standing up in Victoria for the interests of the coal and gas industry.