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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Our news organisations label Australia "lightweight" democracy

Congratulations to Australia's major newspapers, television and radio networks for the joint initiative today in launching the Australian Right to Know Campaign.

We've been urging an initiative along these lines since the High Court decision last year that showed the Federal Freedom of Information Act badly wanting when it came to our right to access information that any minister concludes would be contrary to the public interest.

News Limited Chairman John Hartigan at the launch speaking on behalf of the many media organisations involved, said that erosion of freedom of speech and the public right to know had reached a point where a line in the sand had to be drawn.

In two international surveys Australia ranked 35th and 39th on press freedom, a long way behind comparable countries such as Canada, the UK and New Zealand, after Bosnia and Bolivia and just in front of El Salvador.

Hartigan announced the commissioning of an independent audit of state and federal legislation in the light of the fact that there are now 500 legal prohibitions on freedom of speech in Australia. The main priorities will be to address concerns regarding anti-terrorism legislation, sedition laws, suppression orders and Freedom of Information.

He used as examples of information widely available in other democracies but not here, recent refusals of access to information under FOI concerning schools where bullying was prevalent; restaurants that had failed hygiene standards and been fined; hospitals that had the best health care performance; the incidence of violence at hotels; and provided a new piece of information about refusal of access to an auditor's report about politicians abusing and rorting their allowances.

This is an important opportunity for serious debate about a vital element of our democratic system. The Australian Right to Know Campaign should ensure that politicians and the public are presented with compelling information about the way to improve access to information and related laws.

It should also ensure that it sticks around to keep an eye on governments and hold them to account in the very long term. A job like this is never done!


  1. Anonymous7:59 am

    Hi Peter,

    Does this new Right to Know campaign have a website?



  2. Andrew,

    Not yet as far as I am aware. Peter

  3. Anonymous9:52 pm

    OK - I'll assume that you'll post an entry on it if/when it does get one.