Oz govt officials too reluctant to release vital information to public: Report

November 14th, 2007 - 8:30 am ICT by admin  
The study conducted by the country’s Right to Know Coalition suggested that Australians were the victims of a secretive culture that makes public officials too frightened to release information.

The report on how information is kept hidden from the public found that the governments and judges were denying access to “vital information” through secrecy legislation, “flimsy” suppression orders and million dollar fees for individual Freedom of Information requests, news.com.au reported.

The audit found that Australians were kept from knowing about Carl Williams’s murder conviction for two years, and were unable to learn about a Federal Government WorkChoices poll and information on Mohamed Haneef’s case.

According to the report, the secretive nature of public servants and magistrates who have– granted more than 1000 suppression orders that still apply today; asked for “exorbitant” amounts of money for Freedom of Information requests - including 1.25 million dollars for a report into MP’s travelling expenses; and implemented 335 different government legislations that have “secrecy” provisions to stop journalists from publishing important information.

One 1993 request for information on Jupiter’s Casino to the Queensland Government received no response until 2005, said the report carried out by Irene Moss, a former NSW Ombudsman and former chair of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The Australia’s Right to Know Coalition, comprising major media companies, said the audit highlighted a “serious slide into censorship and secrecy” by politicians and judges.

“It confirms that Australians are not allowed to know enough about how governments at all levels of our society function and how their courts dispense justice,” the website quoted a statement, as saying.

“Without this information, Australians are hampered in their ability to make properly informed judgements about government policy, legislation or the effectiveness of courts,” it added.

The report said that democracy itself was being eroded by Australian decision-makers.

“Many of the mechanisms that are so vital to a well-functioning democracy are beginning to wear thin,” Moss said in the report, adding, “Their functioning in many areas is flawed and not well maintained.” (ANI)

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