The bill was introduced on Wednesday by Attorney General George Brandis, and it gives the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation the power to imprison leakers (including reporters) for five years, with ten year sentences for anything regarding "special intelligence operations" (illegal spy operations conducted under promise of immunity).
The bill also has special penalties for whistleblowers from spy agencies or contractors who leak, described as the "Edward Snowden clause." Brandis has publicly condemned Snowden as a "traitor."
Special intelligence operations are a new category in Australian law, describing otherwise illegal activities undertaken by spies with the promise of immunity.
Barns, who has worked on terrorism cases and has also advised Wikileaks, said Asio could secretly declare many future cases to be special intelligence operations. This would trigger the option to prosecute journalists who subsequently discover and report on aspects of those operations.
He said it would be easy for Asio to declare special intelligence operations because it simply required the security director-general or deputy director-general to approve.
"Their own boss says, 'I think we better call this a special intelligence operation, don't you?' 'Yes, sir,' close it down. The more you talk about it the more outrageous it becomes," Barns said.
Barns said operations in which Asio officers broke laws were the very ones that the community may regard as abuses of power. He argued Brandis wanted powers not available to governments in the UK and the US where citizens enjoyed greater protections for freedom of speech.
Journalists will face jail over spy leaks under new security laws [Paul Farrell and Daniel Hurst/The Guardian]
(Image: Prison cells, miss_millions, CC-BY)