Australian Bureau Chief for Rebel News Avi Yemini is taking the Victorian Government to court after the Sergeant-at-Arms denied his application for a Parliament of Victoria media pass.
Earlier this year, Yemini was ejected from a public press conference by Victoria Police after a request was made by Daniel Andrews' personal staff member. At the time, Yemini had his Rebel News and official Australian government press credentials to verify his role as a journalist.
After initially clearing security at the gate at press conference, held in the Parliament Gardens, another protective service officer confronted Yemini on the lawn and asked him to leave in the interest of security.
The officer admitted that Rebel News was a press organisation, but repeated that the eviction was on security grounds even though the only action taken by Yemini at the time was to walk across the lawn towards the media press conference.
"I'm not having a conversation with you now," replied the officer, when questioned about the decision. "Under powers of an authorised officer, I am directing you to leave and not to enter and believe on reasonable grounds that the direction is necessary for the good order and security of Parliament."
The officer could not explain why he decided to ban an accredited media organisation from accessing a public press conference. Upon further questioning by Yemini, another officer stated that he had been disruptive in the past, despite Yemini never attending any previous press conferences. The officer did not give a specific example of a prior incident.
"Time to go," said the officer when questioned.
Officers further threatened Yemini with arrest while he was standing calmly on the lawn in contact with a lawyer. An officer then revealed that a high-ranking member of Daniel Andrews' staff had ordered the removal of Rebel News from the public press conference.
"The Premier's PA (personal assistant) does not want him here at the conferences," the officer said while explaining the 'reasonable grounds' to the Rebel News lawyer.
Yemini was barred from the area for seven days. While being escorted from the scene, one of the officers falsely accused Yemini of gaining access to the grounds with a fake pass.
Banning a large media organisation from a public press conference upon the request of the Premier's PA caused concern. In response, Rebel News sought to obtain a Parliament of Victoria press pass.
Holding a media pass is crucial for journalists. It grants direct access to politicians, including entry to the media gallery, 'door stop' interviews in the vicinity of parliamentary buildings. It also grants access to press conferences held on parliament grounds allowing accredited journalists to question politicians, including the premier. This would mean that Daniel Andrews' PA could not remove a Rebel News journalist for no legitimate reason.
Media passes are designed to give a wide range of press access to politicians and their representatives in the interest of a free, open and diverse press room. Established media organisations reasonably assume that they will be granted a Parliament of Victoria media pass upon application to the Sergeant-at-Arms.
In the case of Rebel News, after many months of silence, the Sergeant-at-Arms denied the application without offering any reason.
Today, Yemini's legal team filed his case in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
His team includes Australia's most experienced media lawyer Justin Quill and William T Houghton QC, who recently successfully challenged Victoria Police's ban on aerial protest telecasts.