DEPUTY Prime Minister Michael McCormack says freedom of press is important, but has stressed that laws must apply to everyone, including journalists.
The former editor of The Daily Advertiser, from 1991 to 2002, made the remarks in response to the two raids made by the Australian Federal Police on journalists and media outlets last week.
A News Corp journalist's home was searched in connection with a 2018 story concerning secret plans to expand surveillance of Australian citizens.
The ABC headquarters raid followed, in connection to a 2017 report called 'the Afghan files,' based on leaked defence documents.
The consecutive incidents has since sparked debate throughout the nation about the potential threat it poses to press freedom.
"I appreciate freedom of speech as something that's very important in Australia, but the fact is that no one is above the law," Mr McCormack said.
He said the right for a journalist to report on an issue without fear or favour "depends on the public interest", but reporters "cannot breach national security".
"The first order of democracy is to take care of your citizens and you don't want to place your citizens in harm's way because of a story in the paper or online," he said.
"I am not saying that this has happened (in these cases), all I am saying is that it has to be paramount."
Mr McCormack said the AFP has the right to search the homes and workplaces where it suspects a wrongdoing might have occurred.
"They are just doing their job as they see fit - at arm's length from government," he said. "I was a journalist and followed the code of ethics and journalists don't have to reveal their sources, but the fact is if journalists get information via a means that's illegal, then that's the law.
"That is what the Australian Federal Police will determine by its intervention."
RMIT University journalism program manager and senior lecturer Alex Wake said the raids are another factor "eating away" at journalists' ability to shine a light on the issue that people in power want to keep hidden.
Dr Wake agreed that "no one was above the law," but said journalists need to pursue stories where the law must be broken to obtain the information that is in the public's interest.
"It is all well and good for a politician to claim it is for national security, but we see time and time again governments hiding behind terrible actions," she said.
"The Deputy Prime Minister should be standing up for journalists. Politicians say they want a better country, and it is the job of journalist to do that. Australia has dropped two points on the press [freedom] index just this year and this is leading us ... to a terrible place."
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