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Qld government backflips on corruption law

The Queensland government has backed down on a draft law that would have harshly penalised journalists who published corruption allegations against electoral candidates.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath withdrew the planned amendments to the Corruption and Crime Commission bill less than 24 hours after introducing them to parliament, following a furious backlash.

Under the proposed changes, complaints about electoral candidates to the CCC would be kept under wraps until investigations became official or three months lapsed since the watchdog had been notified.

Breaching the law could have landed individuals in jail for up to six months or seen them face thousands of dollars in fines.

The changes would have also allowed a candidate or the watchdog to seek an injunction to prevent further publication of allegations during the lead-up to local government and state elections.

However, in a brief statement on Friday the government dropped the proposal, citing time constraints.

“Given the limited time for the parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee to consider the law changes the CCC seeks … the bill introduced yesterday in state parliament is withdrawn,” Ms D’Ath said.

Queensland’s parliament only has one sitting week remaining before the October election.

Local governments have flagged their support in-part for the changes but said the bill should have been amended to first enshrine protection for journalists.

At a meeting of representatives for the sunshine state’s 77 councils on Friday, the group agreed penalties were needed to stop candidates in local elections publicising allegations which damaged opponents’ reputations.

Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Greg Hallam pointed to CCC figures showing monthly complaints jumped from 12 to 27 in the year leading up to council elections. And just six per cent of all allegations were found to hold any weight.

“By the time the CCC is able to assess and dismiss the baseless allegations, the damage to the elected members who were the subject of those complaints – and the institution of local government – has already been done,” he said.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance welcomed the withdrawal of the legislation, but called on the state government to introduce shield laws to allow a journalist to claim privilege to protect a confidential source.

“Queensland is the last jurisdiction in Australia not to have shield law protection for journalists, despite numerous entreaties to successive governments of both political stripes, ” MEEA Queensland regional director Michelle Rae said.

The Liberal National opposition accused the government of trying to silence whistleblowers ahead of the October state election.

“This is another attempt by Annastacia Palaszczuk to cover up her government’s appalling integrity record and silence whistleblowers,” shadow attorney-general David Janetzki said.

It comes after the LNP again referred former treasurer Jackie Trad to the CCC in July, after allegations she interfered with the independent hiring process for the role of under treasurer in 2019.

Ms Trad was referred to the commission in 2019 over an investment property and again last year to do with her involvement in the selection of a school principal in her South Brisbane seat.

She repeatedly denied wrongdoing but stepped down from cabinet in May.

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