EXCLUSIVE: Read former High Court judge’s advice on Conroy media laws

Justice-Ian-Callinan-5464339Earlier this year, then Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy proposed media regulations that would have operated as a de facto licensing of the press.

The IPA loudly fought the proposed regime. We appeared in the media to denounce the plan, we published this important fact sheet and told a parliamentary inquiry that the regime was an attack on freedom of speech.

At the time, we also commissioned former justice of the High Court, Ian Callinan AC QC to provide an opinion on the proposed regulatory regime. We have now received that advice, which has been jointly written by Callinan and Sydney barrister and constitutional law expert, Caspar Conde. We provide that advice in full for FreedomWatch readers here.

The joint opinion states that the regime is “very arguably unlikely to be valid under the Constitution” for breaching the implied right to freedom of political communication. According to Callinan and Conde, the regulation model can be likened to a blanket restriction on freedom of communication about political matters.

They also point out that under the proposed regime the media regulator (the ‘Public Interest Media Advocate’) would have been empowered to engage in “subjective and imprecise considerations”.

But the most concerning aspect of this advice is that it does not rule out all forms of media regulation. If Conroy had drafted these laws more carefully they would probably have been upheld. The message from this advice is that Australia does not have robust constitutional protections for freedom of speech.

The implied right to freedom of political communication is very limited its scope and often comes down to subjective judgements of individual members of the High Court. Not to mention the fact that it was plucked out of thin air. All of this demonstrates the fundamental role that civil society must play in defending free speech.

When IPA Executive Director John Roskam emailed members to tell them that Callinan would be provided us with advice on the regime he said:

I can’t think of anything the team at the IPA does that is more important than to fight for freedom of speech. But even as I write those words I’m a bit incredulous to think that in this day and age in this country we actually need to be still fighting for something as basic and important as freedom of speech. It shows you. We cannot take our basic liberties for granted. And for proof that we can never take freedom for granted look no further than the Andrew Bolt case, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, and now the Gillard government’s media regulations. That’s why now – in the IPA’s 70th year – the IPA is needed more than ever. Thank you for your support for all that we do.

John’s words resonate even louder now than back in March this year. The Callinan and Conde opinion on the Conroy proposal highlights the importance of the IPA’s continued work in fighting for freedom of speech in Australia.


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