Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ALRC on secrecy No 3:assorted other issues

Other bits and pieces from the Australian Law Reform Commission Report Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia (posts 1 and 2 if you missed them). The  unspecified contribution to the culture of secrecy of the practice of requiring of an officer an oath that goes beyond the strict letter of the law is of particular interest. That's on top of 500 odd secrecy provisions to start with.

Senior management should be held to account
 15.13 The ALRC continues to see the benefits of including in the performance agreements of senior officers in Australian Government agencies a responsibility to ensure efficient and effective information-handling practices. As noted in ALRC 77, giving tangible incentives to staff to pay greater attention to, and to improve, an agency’s information-handling practices will increase the likelihood of cultural change.

Staff need more guidance on information handling
Recommendation 15–1 Australian Government agencies should develop and administer training and development programs for their employees, on induction and at regular intervals thereafter, about the information-handling obligations relevant to their position, including the need to share information in certain situations. Programs should also provide information about how employees can raise concerns and make public interest disclosures.

Oaths of secrecy should be limited to obligations at law
15.28 Approximately 8% of the secrecy provisions identified by the ALRC— predominantly in laws governing taxation and revenue-protection information— empower a specified person, or persons, to require officers to take an oath or make an affirmation of secrecy. Secrecy obligations may also be included in the oaths of office required for assuming certain public positions, such as the oath taken by Executive Councillors. In addition to conduct covered by these legislative provisions, some agencies have taken administrative action to require officers to sign an acknowledgement of their secrecy obligations.
15.30 The ALRC has heard anecdotally, however, that some Commonwealth employees have been asked to sign oaths that set out substantially more stringent secrecy requirements than those that apply under relevant Commonwealth laws.
15.35 In DP 74, the ALRC expressed the view that the relevant Australian Government agency should retain the discretion to administer an oath or affirmation of secrecy, in accordance with any legislative provision. However, the ALRC proposed that where an agency decides to administer such an oath, it should ensure that it is an accurate reflection of the requirements under relevant Commonwealth secrecy laws. In particular, the ALRC was concerned about the potential for oaths and affirmations to set out broader or more onerous obligations than the secrecy laws on which they are based.
Recommendation 15–2 Any Australian Government agency that administers oaths, affirmations or declarations of secrecy should ensure that these properly reflect what is required under relevant Commonwealth secrecy laws.

Changes to Archives Act
The taxation specific secrecy provision in the act [Recommendation 16–5 ], Section 33(3) should be repealed.

And current uncertainty about the relationship between the Archives Act and secrecy provisions in other acts should be removed:
Recommendation 16–6 The Archives Act 1983 (Cth) should be amended to provide that the public access provisions of the Act override any secrecy provisions that would otherwise apply.

No comments:

Post a Comment