Former Queensland Premier and leader of the Australian National Party, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Circa: No date.
Former Queensland Premier and leader of the Australian National Party, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Circa: No date.

Have we learnt nothing from Bjelke-Petersen era?

If there is a time in a democracy when freedom of the press matters most, it's ­during an election.

That's when we really think about the character and integrity of the people seeking our support in their campaign for public office.

Palaszczuk Government's war on free speech

It's not always pretty or dignified, but it is an essential part of how our democracy works. It's also what makes election campaigns the busiest period for journalists.

We don't just have a right to look at candidates' backgrounds. We have a responsibility. But the Queensland government wants to stop that.

It wants to make it an offence to publish corruption allegations about political candidates during an election.

It's an assault on press freedom and on democracy.

Indeed, the Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath even admits that the proposal is deeply problematic.

In her explanation to parliament she says, "I acknowledge the amendments in the Bill limit the freedom of expression and the right to take part in public life and [that] it may be open to conclude that the amendments are incompatible with human rights."

Yet she still goes on to say, "it is my view that the limitation is reasonable and justified."

Even if this law could stop baseless allegations being made in an election (and that's a big "if"), it's hardly justified when balanced against the vital need for voters to know who they are voting for.

And if the allegations are not baseless, what then? Anybody who remembers the Bjelke-Petersen government, will well know the dangers of stopping journalists covering corruption allegations in an election.

Peter Greste is a director of the Alliance for Journalists Freedom and a professor of journalism and communication at the University of Queensland. He spent 400 days in an Egyptian prison on terrorism charges for his reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood opposition.

Originally published as Have we learnt nothing from Bjelke-Petersen era?


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