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May 6, 2021

Metadata changes awaited in parliament

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But details of a government promise to protect journalists and their sources have yet to be outlined, including whether reporters would be informed before their data has been accessed.

The opposition agreed to support the regime, which forces telecommunications companies to keep two years of customer data, after the government supported a warrant process for access to journalist’s sources.

Debate on the legislation kicked off in parliament on Tuesday with Labor still awaiting details of that promised amendment.

But it may mean journalists would only know “some time afterwards” if a warrant has been issued.

“It might be that you say after the event, which is what occurs with some warrants now,” shadow-attorney general Mark Dreyfus said.

The government said it agreed to the limited “but not necessary” change because it wanted the legislation to pass parliament by the end of next week.

The exemption is unlikely to protect bloggers.

Attorney-General George Brandis dismissed as “outrageous hyperbole” criticism from the journalists’ union that even with the change, the laws were an attack on press freedom.

“This has never been about journalists,” he said, adding it was unlikely their sources would be involved in terrorism, organised crime or paedophilia.

Federal police joined in the criticism of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance for “falsely” claiming it was actively hunting down journalist’s sources.

“This is inaccurate and a distortion of the comments made,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement, adding its requests for accessing journalists’ metadata were rare.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said warrants should be contestable in court and urged the government to look at the meaningful protection offered to journalists in the US.

The Labor caucus on Tuesday spent about 40 minutes debating the bill, with a number of MPs voicing their concerns about its “Orwellian” nature and the lateness of consultation within the party.

Mr Dreyfus dismissed that the party was fractured on support for the laws, saying concerns were about the government’s explanations.

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