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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

You can bet FOI wouldn't deliver the Nauru Files

The freedom of information system wouldn't produce anything like the Nauru Files
published by Guardian Australia today following a leak of more than 2000 incident reports from the Immigration detention centre

After all, when Guardian Australia had a crack at formally obtaining the Detention Logs a couple of years ago, 'smart lawyering' not transparency and accountability prevailed. And that was before the issue of exemptions even arose.

Hat tip this time to Paul Farrell, Nick Evershed and Helen Davidson and the unknown person or persons risking up to two years imprisonment under Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015 for secreting this cache out of the system. 

There is no defence to the charge of disclosure of protected information (any information obtained in the performance of duties) by an entrusted person (employee,contractor or consultant) regardless of the significance or insignificance of the information.

The reports published "set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty."

There is plenty of shock, outrage and sense of shame voiced on the Twitter feed #naurufiles and no wonder.

 David Marr comments on 'official secrecy' and its political purpose:
Parking refugees on distant islands worked last time to keep their predicament hidden. But secrets are so much harder to keep these days than they were in John Howard’s time...Canberra’s passion for secrecy has always been contradictory. Surely the more the world knows of the fate of refugees in these island camps, the more the deterrent power of holding them there? But secrecy has its purpose. It helps hold the political consensus together. The truth is terrible. The regime of official secrecy allows us – even when so much is known – not to face the facts. It’s a service for the squeamish.
Guardian Australia has commendably self censored personal information from the published reports:
The Nauru files contain a large amount of personal information about asylum seekers and detention centre staff. The Guardian has adopted a stringent approach to redacting the documents, including several layers of editorial and technical checks of the data. The general approach we have taken is to remove:
• The names of all asylum seekers and staff
• Personal identification numbers of asylum seekers (their six-digit “boat arrival numbers”)
• Ages of the asylum seekers named in reports
• Signatures of detention staff
• Nationalities with small population groups
• Residential tent numbers
• In some cases further identifying information has been removed 

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