NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who also spoke at the Wheeler Centre, said the laws reminded him of his own trial and said that they would result in self-censorship.

“If this passes in its current form without huge changes, it is going to send a very chilling message,” Mr Drake said. “It will create a climate in which people will self-censor. They will opt not to reveal anything. They will opt not to associate with certain individuals. They will opt not to share certain information just on the risk that it might be designated secret or it might be designated something that might reveal an intelligence operation. Well in that kind of an environment guess what? It has its intended effect.”

Senator Brandis has previously said that the new offences were not aimed at journalists.

NSA whistlblower Edward Snowden.
NSA whistlblower Edward Snowden. Photo: AP Photo/The Guardian

“It’s not the purpose of this bill to place any constraints at all on freedom of discussion,” he said.

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“We are a government that believes very strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said if criminalising journalism was the effect of the new legislation, “the government will need to make changes to remove that consequence”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously urged journalists not to report on national security matters that could endanger the country.

Mr Abbott said news that “endangers the security of our country frankly shouldn’t be fit to print”.

“I’d ask for a sense of responsibility, a sense of national interest, as well as simply commercial interest,” he said.

Henry Sapiecha