Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch
Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch

Far North pollies speak up for free press

FAR North Queensland politicians have lent their qualified support to the notion of press freedom - even if journalists are sometimes a "pack of bastards".

Immediate shockwaves have been felt through the Canberra political class after Australian media companies united behind the Right to Know campaign.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said he had "no issue" with the push but argued there were reasons for dealing with classified information which was a balancing act.

"I have my moments in relation to the accuracy of some reporting … but as far as I'm concerned, it's absolutely critical that we have a free and open press," he said.

"My only concern in dealing with those sorts of issues from a media perspective, particularly when you're dealing with conflicts and wars, the reality is that people can be killed.

"A lot of the agencies we're dealing with, there are good reasons why they have such high level security and secrecy."

Leaked information about wars and international espionage is one thing - the habitual jealous gatekeeping of seemingly insignificant data from government departments is another entirely.

Mr Entsch said he had hit brick walls when trying to get information about illegal animal smuggling from Federal Government departments.

"Getting information out of the Department of Environment has, quite frankly, been ridiculous," he said.

It was the same story when it came to banking and aged care scandals.

"It's frustrating, it's heavily redacted and all it does is feed into conspiracy theories," Mr Entsch warned.

He stopped short of backing a US-style bill of rights.

Kennedy MP Bob Katter was much more strident in his support of press freedom - even for the ABC, which is not his favourite source of news.

KAP Leader and Member for Kennedy Bob Katter said he stands behind press freedom- even if journalists are a “pack of bastards”. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
KAP Leader and Member for Kennedy Bob Katter said he stands behind press freedom- even if journalists are a “pack of bastards”. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

"You blokes are a pack of bastards but I love you," he said.

Mr Katter said it took him two and a half years to get his hands on State Government diabetes figures for Cape York.

"They are horrific," he said.

"I ended up having to get them through an obscure section of a Federal Government department, because when they found out I was looking for the figures, they hid them.

"Instead of doing something about it, they hid the figures.

"A good way to make yourself the South Africa of the 21st century is to do those sorts of things."

Mr Katter said it was difficult to "muscle" the press in any way without threatening democracy.

"When you start trying to hide corruption, the outcomes are worse than you could believe," he said.

"It's like a pressure cooker - eventually the bloody thing will explode if you haven't got a release valve."

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch must write a report twice a year as special envoy to the Great Barrier Reef but whether they will be made public is still unknown.

Labor Senator Nita Green used a senate estimates hearing yesterday to table an October 8 copy of the Cairns Post questioning Mr Entsch about his job expectations.

Liberal Senator Jane Hume said Mr Entsch would provide "biannual updates" in written form to the minister.

"Why does Mr Entsch need a special title to do what is essentially part of his job as member for Leichhardt?" Sen Green asked.

Sen Hume responded: "I think that's more a reflection of your opinion than it is of the government's … I think we've outlined quite clearly exactly what Mr Entsch's role is as special envoy, and the extent to which it goes above and beyond a local member's role."