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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Today Reserve Bank, tomorrow who knows?

The announcement that the Reserve Bank will release minutes of board meetings, and a statement on its decisions including when there has been no change in interest rates, is another sign of changing times. It comes after a decade of discussion and debate about the issue with the Bank until now firmly against disclosure.

A Freedom of Information request in 2004 resulted in the issue of a conclusive certificate by the former Treasurer to exempt minutes on grounds that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

As the Australian Financial Review in an editorial today reminds us
"The changing of the guard in Canberra gives government and statutory agencies some breathing space for some overdue renovations".
Where this might take us who knows?

However the release this week of the United States National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities, is another reminder of scope for a more mature view about the benefits of transparency. The Estimate, based on the views of the US Intelligence community is that Iran abandoned its nuclear program some years ago. Although it acknowledges that Iran may have plans for the future, these findings have put the President on the back foot given his statements about Iran and nuclear weapons over the last few years.

Why was the report released? Here is an extract from the statement issued by the Principal Deputy Director:
"The decision to release unclassified conclusions from any NIE is based upon weighing the importance of the information to open discussions about our national security against the necessity to protect classified information and the sources and methods used to collect intelligence......The decision to release (this Estimate) was made when it was determined that doing so was in the interest of our nation's security. The Intelligence Community is on the record with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment of Iran. Since our understanding or Iran's capabilities has changed, we thought it was important to release this information to ensure an accurate presentation is available".
Something our own Office of National Assessments (and other agencies) might aspire to.

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