Australia

Labor press freedom inquiry bid falls flat

Labor's bid for a new parliamentary committee examining press freedom has failed in the upper house, the issue to be looked at briefly by an existing committee.

Labor's push for a new parliamentary committee to examine press freedom has failed in the Senate.

But the issue will still be raked over in during a short and targeted inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

The opposition's broader inquiry, which would have looked at disclosure and public reporting of sensitive and classified information, was defeated after a tied vote in the Senate.

Whistleblower and public servant protections would also have come under scrutiny, along with how the government refers leaks to authorities and the independence of police in dealing with politically sensitive matters.

Labor's home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the government's option was limited and restricted.

"They should stand up and explain their silence over the past three weeks and why they have failed their guardianship of one of our most fundamental democratic rights," she told senators.

Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann said the PJCIS was well-placed to deal with the issue.

"The government is committed to ensuring our democracy strikes the right balance between a free press and keeping Australians safe," he said.

Pauline Hanson abstained from the vote on Labor's committee because One Nation hadn't been approached to be on it.

"I don't believe it's going to be fair and balanced," she said.

Greens senator Nick McKim criticised the government-approved inquiry, arguing the issue needed full transparency.

Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie and former Liberal Cory Bernardi sided with the government, killing off Labor's inquiry.

The Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was raided last month over the 2018 publication of a leaked proposal to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australians.

The following day, the ABC's Sydney headquarters were raided over stories published in 2017 alleging Australian soldiers may have carried out unlawful killings in Afghanistan, based on leaked Defence papers.

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