Newly-appointed Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw has been unable to explain why his staff redacted an emoji from a series of WhatsApp messages released under freedom of information.
As Australian government departments face unprecedented scrutiny over the level of information being kept from the public, Labor senator Anne Urquhart used Friday's press freedom inquiry to extract answers from the AFP's top brass about whether an emoji - a character used in messaging - constituted personal information.
Commissioner Kershaw, who has proposed to usher in a new era of transparency for the AFP, acknowledged there had been a regression in the relationship between the police and press in 2019.
He met with ABC, News Corp and Nine bosses on Thursday to reset the relationship, nearly six months after twin raids on the ABC's Ultimo headquarters and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst made headlines around the world.
He's also commissioned a review of how the AFP investigates leaks from former Australian Crime Commission boss John Lawler.
But the commissioner ran aground while trying to explain why an emoji was deemed too sensitive to release.
The text messages, first reported by The Guardian, were between then commissioner Andrew Colvin and deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan on the day of the Smethurst raid. Deputy Commissioner Gaughan's use of the thumbs up emoji in previously released messages raised eyebrows during a separate inquiry.
Senator Urquhart pressed,"Why is it contrary to the public interest that an emoji be disclosed?"
Commissioner Kershaw replied,"I don't know senator. It's new ground, this whole world of SMSes and emojis and other things."
Asked if the AFP had been "overzealous" in its redactions, Commissioner Kershaw said his team was "worked incredibly hard" and was "very thorough".
Meanwhile, Australian Law Council president Arthur Moses told the inquiry giving a politician the power to authorise the prosecution of journalists for reporting on top secret documents could actually deter the press from breaking stories critical of the government.
The law council is a strident opponent of Attorney-General Christian Porter's new power to approve the prosecution of journalist for offences related to national security.
The power was intended as a safeguard to ensure journalists were not being pursued by law enforcement for breaking stories that were in the national interest.
But Mr Moses said it was a problem that a politician would be placed in a position of authorising prosecutions of journalists who may have written stories critical of his or her government.
"This will not improve press freedom, it will serve as another potential deterrent to the public interest," Mr Moses said.
Mr Moses said there was no evidence this was the intent of the new power, but likely an unintended consequences.
"The effect is that we create a culture of apprehension, where journalists may be reluctant to report on particular matters less they get off-side with the Attorney-General, for the government."
Mr Moses also rejected claims that creating an exemption for journalists under national security laws would be placing them above the law.
"That is not true. A free media exists the benefit of Australians. It serves the critical function of scrutinising misconduct, misinformation, and misuse of power," Mr Moses said.
ASIO Deputy Director-General Heather Cook also responded to concerns Australia was arbitrarily tightening national security laws.
"Recent legislation has been crucial in enabling ASIO to continue to fulfil our role of protecting Australia from continuing efforts to harm Australians and undermine our sovereignty," Ms Cook said.
"The legislation was not drafted in a vacuum. It was created in response to a worsening security environment and was based on real-life concerns of agencies, which found themselves increasingly unable to fulfil our roles, due to outdated or ineffective legislation."
The inquiry continues.