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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Secrecy laws remain sitting uneasily with open and accountable government

Here is what you are entitled to know about work undertaken in the three years since the Australian Law Reform Commission completed a report on Secrecy laws and open government:
                        (This space intentionally left blank.)

The report, tabled in March 2010 identified 506 secrecy provisions in 176 pieces of legislation, including 358 distinct criminal offences and made 61 recommendations for reform. In publishing the report the commission observed:
Secrecy laws that impose obligations of confidentiality on individuals handling government information—and the prosecution of public servants for the unauthorised disclosure of such information—can sit uneasily with the Australian Government’s commitment to open and accountable government. Secrecy laws have also drawn sustained criticism on the basis that they unreasonably interfere with the right to freedom of expression.
Ah yes, amen to that. 

But my Freedom of Information application to the Attorney General's Department for a copy of the most recent summary of the work undertaken or still remaining to be completed on a response to the report was knocked back

Today ditto, on internal review for the same reasons as spelled out (well in a fashion) in this Notice of determination, apparently because the document contains deliberative matter and these considerations tip the balance in favour of non -disclosure. I quote:

  • "whether it is contrary to the public interest to disclose draft material that has not gone before the relevant minister (or ministers) and does not reflect the government's settled policy (or even a settled view within an agency) and would have cross-portfolio implications if released
  • whether it is contrary to the public interest to provide the public with a factually incorrect sense of direction that an agency (and the Government) is taking on matters of criminal law, where the material in question uses strong language that would suggest it is the Government's final settled position when it is not
  • whether an agency could effectively discharge its responsibilities if material prepared for internal consultation and consideration was released prematurely  and damaged  the relationship between an agency and the Government and
  •  whether it is contrary to the public interest to disclose material that would inhibit policy officers  from considering (and documenting) a full range of draft responses to ALRC recommendations."
You won't be surprised - I'll invite the Office of Australian Information Commissioner to give  the decision the once over.

As to the broader issue of what it says about priorities that the document is a minute to the Secretary dated 24 August 2012, is said to contain thinking of the kind not put to the minister in the previous two and a half years, and that there has been no document created along these lines in the year since...

I'll leave you to your own conclusions.

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