Journalists want the right to protect their sources

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, a trade union representing journalists, has called for universal national “shield laws” to protect journalists’ sources. Billionaire mining heiress Gina Rinehart has twice subpoenaed journalists in a bid to force them to reveal the sources of their information about her in newspaper reports and a biography. In both cases, she failed because Western Australia introduced shield laws in 2012, which require that the “starting point will be that if a journalist has promised not to disclose an informant’s identity, that journalist or their employer cannot be forced to give evidence that would disclose the informant’s identity“. While the model Uniform Evidence Act includes a shield provision, it has not been adopted in every State, and is not as broad as the WA law.

Close SA election prompts calls for new boundaries

After Saturday’s election in South Australia, Labor might cling to power in a minority government. Although counting continues, it is expected that two independent MPs will hold the balance of power in the lower house. The Liberal Party is complaining that although it won almost 53% of the statewide two-party-preferred vote, it did not translate into a majority of seats. This occurs when a party performs strongly in its own safe seats, but narrowly loses in marginal seats. Former SA premier John Olsen wants the system changed: “The fact that we have now had 1989, 2002, 2010 and 2014 (elections) where the Liberal Party has got 52 or 53 per cent of the vote and hasn’t been able to form government is clearly indicating that the process by which the boundaries are drawn is not producing a result that the majority of South Australians want.” The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission is required to draw the borders between electorates “fairly”, and says this is a difficult and imprecise task.

Prime Minister grilled by Year 9s

Students from Sydney’s Newtown High School on a trip to Canberra were surprised by an impromptu question-and-answer session with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. After two female students grilled him on the repeal of the carbon tax laws and his opposition to same-sex marriage, the Prime Minister suggested, “Let’s have a bloke’s question, okay, [like] what football team do you support?” Instead, a schoolboy asked him why his government turned back asylum seeker boats. The final question: “Not saying I don’t trust you or anything, [but] a simple question, why is a man the Minister for Women?” A video of the exchange has been viewed over 60,000 times.

Anti-“move on” protesters moved on

Protesters against a controversial anti-protest law were forcibly removed from the Legislative Council’s public gallery last night. Police used parliamentary precinct “move on” powers to remove the group, and video of the incident shows police dragging one man by the neck. The protesters argue that the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill, which gives the police broader “move on” powers throughout the State, will shut down peaceful demonstrations. The bill was passed last night and now awaits royal assent.

Newspaper launches campaign against family violence

A NSW newspaper has announced its plan to “Shine a Light on domestic violence”. In an editorial on International Women’s Day, it “launched a year-long campaign to illuminate the public and our leaders on what remains a national tragedy for a country that purports to be civilised, tolerant and safe.” The campaign began by highlighting failures of government, reporting on calls for domestic violence to be addressed in the primary school curriculum, and questioning whether defences to murder adequately protect victims of domestic violence.  The campaign comes in the wake of the NSW’s government’s new laws to address alcohol-fuelled violence, which critics say ignore the much bigger problem of family violence.

Indigenous backbenchers threaten to quit

The NT Government’s four Indigenous MPs are threatening to break away from the Country Liberal Party and start their own party. Constituents in remote communities have been disappointed by broken election promises, and the backbench MPs say they are being ignored by their party’s ministers. Their failure to influence government policies is surprising, as it was reported last year that the Indigenous MPs “hold the balance of power in a caucus of 16”, and were instrumental in Adam Giles’s appointment to the chief ministership. However, the group’s leader, Alison Anderson, was demoted from cabinet last September. She has defected from a political party before: in 2009, she quit as a Labor MP, sitting as an independent for two years before joining the CLP.

Police to gain new powers to shut down protests

The Napthine Government’s controversial Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill is expected to pass in the Legislative Council this week, having been approved by a margin of one vote in the lower house last Thursday. Australian Huuman Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson expressed concern about “the low bar that is being set to give police the powers to move people on” from protests such as the community picket against the East-West Tunnel project. Even protesters who had not yet broken the law could be arrested, Fitzroy Legal Service solicitor Meghan Fitzgerald said: “As soon as the move-on direction is issued, on a reasonable suspicion that your conduct, including future conduct, is likely to cause a breach of the peace, then people can be arrested.” The bill was developed in response to the business lobby’s complaints about picket lines targeting businesses over workplace safety and environmental and social issues. Last month, thousands of people marched to Parliament House to oppose the bill.

Fencing disputes keep mediators busy

According to the Dispute Resolution Centre of Victoria, a free mediation service provided by the Victorian Government, about one third of the disputes they deal with relate to fences and boundaries. The centre’s director, Gina Ralston, said, “Typically, neighbours may disagree over the condition of the fence, the kind of fence needed to replace it, which way the rails should go, when it should be replaced, who should do the work and the overall cost.” In 2013, a parliamentary committee reviewed the Fencing Act 1968 and recommended sweeping changes. A bill to replace it with a new Fencing Act is currently before parliament.