'Press freedom isn't free', senators told

Australia's media outlets are united in a campaign to warn against growing censorship.
Australia's media outlets are united in a campaign to warn against growing censorship.

Federal cabinet minister Linda Reynolds has dismissed concerns about press freedom, saying the national campaign on Monday's newspaper front pages proved the media was free to express its views.

That comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted he isn't out of step with Attorney-General Christian Porter on the issue.

Senator Reynolds, appearing at Senate estimates for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, said the government had the balance of national security and press freedom right.

"No freedom is ever truly free," the defence minister said.

"It is subject to the limitations that we in the parliament at a point of time make."

Australian media outlets have united with a 'Right to Know' campaign to warn against growing censorship and attacks on press freedom.

The front pages of Monday's major newspapers replicated heavily-redacted government documents alongside an advertising campaign challenging laws that effectively criminalise journalism and whistleblowing.

Senator Reynolds called it a "beautiful display" of press freedoms.

"Two parliamentary inquiries, and front pages of the paper, I think, demonstrates that we do have freedom of speech," Senator Reynolds said.

She said the Bali bombings and September 11 attacks had "increased the requirement for national security legislation".

But it was also about balancing press freedoms with things like freedom of information laws, defamation and the right to a fair trial, as well as national security, she said.

Mr Morrison told parliament on Monday he didn't believe decisions on who should be prosecuted under national security laws should be made "on the whim of politicians".

Labor argued that stance put him at odds with Mr Porter, who recently directed Commonwealth prosecutors to get his approval before charging journalists under national security laws.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the government should immediately announce the journalists under investigation following separate AFP raids earlier this year will not be prosecuted for doing their jobs.

"Journalists should not be prosecuted simply for telling the Australian people about matters which are unequivocally in the public interest," he said.

He said laws were needed to better protect journalists and whistleblowers.

The prime minister hosed down the suggestion he has a different view to Mr Porter.

Mr Morrison said there is a difference between Mr Porter playing a role in deciding whether prosecutions go ahead, once authorities have compiled information, and ruling out prosecutions from the outset.

"The ALP is asking us to rule out consent even before any advice is received from any of the relevant agencies, which would be unprecedented and most likely unlawful," he told parliament on Tuesday.

Weeks after the May federal election, federal police officers raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst's home over a national security story she had written more than a year earlier, based on leaked information.

The next day, police raided ABC offices about another national security story two journalists had written two years earlier.

Australian Associated Press