Jamie Briggs, the photo and privacy…a generally superficial consideration of the legal issues but comprehensive political posturing

January 5, 2016 |

The story about the Jamie Briggs being sacked for inappropriate behaviour with a public servant in a Hong Kong Bar has segued into a story about the publication, and republication of a photograph of that public servant into the media.  The issue is now being described as a breach of privacy.

And it is. As described in Jamie Briggs photo leak a ‘gross breach of privacy’.  The problem is that the issue has quickly morphed into political fight and not consideration of privacy issues and reform so that someone else in a similar situation can, if he or she wanted to, do something about the breach.

The Prime Minister has come out against the leak to the press and asking for the officers privacy to be requested. The opposition is going high dudgeon about the leak, commenting on the breach of privacy but really after a political scalp. Part of that attack has been a call for an inquiry which was rejected.

Typical coverage is found in the AM story of Turnbull criticises leak of public servant’s identity – urges all parties to respect privacy which provides:

KIM LANDERS: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has criticised the leaking of a photo of a female diplomat whose complaint helped to bring down former minister Jamie Briggs.

The image, reportedly taken by Mr Briggs, managed to end up in the media, sparking condemnation from unions and the ALP.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong spoke to RN a short time ago and called for an investigation into who leaked the photo of the female diplomat to the media.

PENNY WONG: I think the more important question for Mr Turnbull is what action is he taking as the leader of the party and the Prime Minister to find out who received this photo and who provided it to the media.

I mean if he is concerned, and he should be, he is right to be concerned about this complainant’s privacy being compromised in this way by the distribution of a photograph.

If he is concerned about that he should be undertaking the appropriate investigation and taking appropriate action against whichever coalition MP or senator provided that photograph to the media.

KIM LANDERS: Acting Opposition leader Penny Wong.

To discuss this further I’m joined by Political Reporter Francis Keany from our Canberra studio.

Francis, what’s the PM had to say about this?

FRANCIS KEANY: Well the Prime Minister issued a statement last night saying that “from the outset I have sought to ensure the privacy of the public servant concerned has been protected.”

He goes on to say that “publishing the identity of a complainant in a case like this not only infringes their privacy, it serves actively to discourage other women who are concerned about the conduct of a superior from raising a complaint in the future.

“I urge all parties to respect the public servant’s privacy.”

Now this is a clear warning to Mr Briggs’ colleagues who have leaked information about this woman.

As we heard, the former minister told Newscorp he took that photo and then distributed it to colleagues both before and after the woman made a complaint.

She had raised issues about his conduct while they were at a bar in Hong Kong during an official trip last year. It’s unclear how that image got in the hands of the press.

But as we heard Penny Wong there still demanding answers. She wants to know what action the Prime Minister is taking to find out who received the photo and who provided it to the press.

KIM LANDERS: Now what is Jamie Briggs’s political future?

FRANCIS KEANY: Well at the moment it’s unclear at this stage.

Mr Briggs in a press conference last week said he’d work hard to ensure the re-election of the Government.

It’s unclear though whether he’ll stay on and be pre-selected for the seat of Mayo, a safe Liberal seat in the Adelaide Hills.

There’s reports in the Australian newspaper this morning that Liberal MPs who are members of the right faction will meet today to discuss the pre-selection of that seat.

There’s also concerns not just about the impact of this scandal though but also about independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s new political party.

He is fielding a candidate in this seat who incidentally is a former staffer to Jamie Briggs.

KIM LANDERS: Now Francis, what action does Labor want taken over the offensive text message that was sent to a journalist by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton?

FRANCIS KEANY: Now Penny Wong this morning has continued to call for answers about Peter Dutton, the Minister apologising to the journalist, Samantha Maiden, for calling her a “mad” expletive “witch” in a message that was apparently intended for Jamie Briggs.

In a separate statement late yesterday the PM indicated he had already spoken to Peter Dutton about this and that it was clearly inappropriate, but at this stage no indication that any action will be taken.

But Penny Wong says while politics is naturally a robust environment, that sort of phrase would be unacceptable in workplaces and that most women would be offended by that particular term.

KIM LANDERS: Reporter Francis Keany in Canberra, thank you.

The problem with all of the above is that there is been very little real consideration on the nature of the privacy breach and what can be done to provide the aggrieved person a remedy.  A typical, unsatisfying end point in such a debate.  Both sides of politics have assiduously ignored the long standing need for reform of the law to allow for a statutory right to privacy.  As such the commentary is essentially cynical and self serving.

One Response to “Jamie Briggs, the photo and privacy…a generally superficial consideration of the legal issues but comprehensive political posturing”

  1. Jamie Briggs, the photo and privacy…a generally superficial consideration of the legal issues but comprehensive political posturing | Australian Law Blogs

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