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Monday, April 07, 2008

Wharfies try again but documents still secret

The Maritime Union of Australia, on the 10th anniversary of the Howard Government intervention in the waterfront dispute, has raised the issue of access to documents that would show thinking within the government that led to the drama. Under the Howard Government access to most documents had been denied on various grounds and had been the subject of a conclusive certificate that the documents were exempt. The Acting Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said that the current government will not overturn the certificate. Labor Party policy prior to the election was to remove the powers to issue such certificates - one of those promises yet to be acted upon.

Under the Federal Freedom of Information Act conclusive certificates endure for the period stipulated, or apparently forever if no date is specified. In 1987 a Senate Committee recommended that the duration be limited to two years after which time another certificate could be issued. In 1991 the Senate rejected a proposal to introduce a five year limit, on the basis that this was too long. The Australian Law Reform Commission in its Open Government Report in1995 recommended two years for certificates relating to Cabinet and national security and defence documents.

The Howard Government let the matter rest there. As a result any certificate issued without any time limit still applies, as the MUA has discovered.

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