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Monday, May 12, 2008

Shredder busy in Tasmania

Not a great week in Tasmania last week for trust, confidence, honesty and transparency.Rick Snell and The Greens received separate but apparently identical responses to Freedom of Information applications for a copy of the submission to the then Attorney General on the appointment of a magistrate that he claimed had never been approved, only to be brought undone when the original, approving the appointment was found shredded in his rubbish bin. Guess what: the Department of Justice doesn't hold a copy. Despite the wonders of modern technology, any departmental trace of what was put to the minister has been lost or destroyed. Convenient, but embarrassing, to say the least.

Then as Sue Neales in the Mercury comments, some might see positives in the release of what amounts to a government guarantee for Gunns regarding sovereign risk concerning an aspect of the deal for the supply of timber to the proposed pulp mill. But why unprompted disclosure four months after the guarantee was signed?
"(And what about an)explanation about why 25 documents -- held within the Department of Economic Development relating to the Government's well-advanced plans to fund the private pulp mill's $65 million water supply pipeline -- could not be made publicly available. A Freedom of Information request to obtain this information this week received a blanket refusal on the grounds the information was commercial-in-confidence and formed part of protected information provided to the Government's inner Cabinet.
Increasingly around Australia, both arguments are being used as a form of obfuscation by governments seeking to prevent the public using FOI laws to discover what is actually going on behind the thick walls and closed doors of executive government. The problem is, as Michael McKinnon, Australia's leading FOI media exponent told a packed lecture at the University of Tasmania on Thursday, these excuses are usually used as a cover-up.
"Where you get this sort of government secrecy (in relation to FOI requests), you can almost always guarantee that there is a sweetheart deal going on," McKinnon said bluntly this week."

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