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Thursday, June 25, 2009

What to make of leak week?

There are currently over 300 media reports on Google Search about leaks and alleged leakers arising from events of the past week in Canberra and the mystery surrounding Treasury official Godwin Grech.

However The Sydney Morning Herald
editorial is right to express a note of concern if the investigation of a forged email "signalled a new crackdown on information flows from the public service and a return to the climate of intimidation enforced under the Howard government. A neutral bureaucracy, biased towards openness, and questioning Senate committees are vital parts of our democracy."

Because forged documents and leaks against the government for political reasons designed to assist the Opposition are one thing, greater transparency about the workings of government are another. This from a post here in June 2008 following controversy about the leak of advice the Government received on Fuelwatch:
"Every organisation must have rules about who can disclose what about its internal workings , but given its role and the nature of the information it holds, special rules should apply to access to government information. We should be entitled to know through designated procedures(not leaks at the whim of someone in the system) what government knows unless some harm to essential public interests would result. Governments need thinking space to weigh advice and make a decision, then choose to act on the advice of this expert or that, or not at all, and to explain itself. However a government serious about transparency should not be trying to limit what we know about the views of its experts by locking the papers up for 30 years when they will be released into open access. Disclosure of the assessments of government advisers, no matter how this occurs, should not endanger the prospect of frank and candid advice in future. The Government should be demanding this sort of advice from its public servants on an ongoing basis. Leakers are not necessarily whistleblowers who deserve sympathy or protection but not all leaks are matters of great national signifigance. Currently unauthorised disclosure of any fact or knowledge acquired in the course of duties by a federal government official is a one size fits all criminal offence under the Crimes Act, for which there is no public interest or other defence. Whistleblowers who act in accordance with established rules to bring to the attention of proper authorities, maladministration, corrupt conduct or the misuse of public money deserve special protection."
The Government needs to keep moving on greater transparency, whistleblower protection, and when finalised, what emerges from the Australian Law Reform Commission examination of secrecy provisions in Commonwealth laws, particularly the draconian Section 70 of the Crimes Act.

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