The Importance of a Free Press to Democracy


Peter Khalil: This House has heard a lot about the importance of a free press to democracy, but I want to take a moment to reflect on what that means for ordinary working people in my electorate on a day-to-day level. In my electorate of Wills, the Moreland Leader is the main local newspaper. There are busy local reporters covering all sorts of local events, but they also cover horrible crimes, like assaults and murders, as well as sporting fixtures, fundraisers, planning disputes, parking restrictions, traffic issues. These are all regular topics of interest. This may seem somewhat trivial to some of us here, and even to some in the media, but for many people in my electorate—one of the most diverse electorates in Australia—it is anything but.

People who have come to Australia seeking freedom, security and prosperity value a free press in a way that I think is different from those of us who have lived here our whole lives in a democracy and may take it for granted. With a lot of those people I think there is an extra level of gratitude. They are thankful for a place where reporters can do their job without fear of censorship or persecution, and they feel that extra concern, alarm even, when this is threatened.

Many people in my electorate come from overseas; many have come to Australia from places where there is no free press or very limited press freedom; where reporters live in fear of writing the wrong thing or angering the wrong people in government or where they fear intimidation or violence or worse; where websites and apps are blocked; where people who speak up disappear; where all information is controlled by government; where reporters and dissidents alike are imprisoned without charge, tortured and convicted in show trials. That is why some of the electors in my electorate of Wills experience that extra joy when they open up a local paper. It’s a simple thing. It’s not about the school fete that might be in the story; it’s about having that basic right and basic freedom to be able to read a report that has been prepared by a press that’s free.

When people see our government emulating some of these chilling intrusions on the press that we’ve seen in some authoritarian regimes elsewhere, then people become deeply disturbed. The truth is that democracy is rare. It’s precious. Only a little over half the world’s population lives in a democracy. And our democracy withers or thrives based on how those of us trusted to nurture it, to protect it and to protect the freedom of the press—its lifeblood—go about that job.

I have spent a lot of my career in national security and defence, and I’m not blind to the security considerations, getting that balance right, contained in reporting sensitive matters. I also know that members of the Australian media are acutely aware of public safety and national security in their reporting. Reporters do have a difficult job of balancing those two things, and it’s important that we give them all the support that we can as members of a free press, because it’s so important for our democracy.