Defamation law reform on the cards: A-G

Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
Christian Porter has flagged changes to laws protecting whistleblowers and freedom of information

Australia's leading law officers are likely to pursue an overhaul of defamation laws from the middle of next year.

That could include making social media titans like Facebook and Twitter more responsible for content on their platforms, with federal Attorney-General Christian Porter saying they should be treated the same as traditional media.

He also flagged changes to laws protecting whistleblowers and the Freedom of Information regime during a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.

These are among the six changes media organisations, including AAP, have been seeking as part of the 'Your Right To Know' campaign.

Mr Porter said he would argue for pushing ahead with an overhaul of existing defamation laws, introduced in 2006, at a meeting of the state and territory attorneys-general next week.

"It's fair to say that the current defamation laws don't strike the perfect balance between public interest journalism and protecting individuals from reputational harm," he told the press club in Canberra.

"There are areas where I, in my personal observation, would say that there are clear and sensible reforms that are required which will be of enormous significance to all media in Australia."

He wants to focus on a threshold for serious harm, caps on aggravated damages and a defence of responsible public interest reporting, which has been in place in New Zealand.

A second phase of reforms would look at how to treat online platforms as publishers.

"That is something that needs to be dealt with as urgently as possible as a matter of reform," Mr Porter said.

He cited the case of Dylan Voller where Fairfax and News Corp were found to be responsible for defamatory comments written by readers on the media organisations' Facebook pages.

"That doesn't level the playing field. That makes the playing field more un-level. And that's clearly something that needs to be dealt with."

Existing laws protecting whistleblowers were "almost impossible to read and understand" and the government would soon be releasing its response to the Moss review of them.

The response would address the recommendations Philip Moss made in his July 2016 report and go further to make sure the law defining who was and was not a whistleblower was clear and understandable to people who needed to use it.

And on freedom of information, the attorney-general said it was obvious there was room for significant improvement.

He expects parliament's intelligence committee will address the matter when it finishes its inquiry into press freedom.

But he noted the existing law didn't give government bodies any triage process for dealing with requests.

Mr Porter flagged a potential change would be to give departments some mechanism "to work out which are the more and less substantive or important FoI applications".