Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Flow of Information Blocked by Government Secrecy

That was the headline in The Australian on Tuesday. Librarians should be delighted that the mainstream press (other newspapers covered the story) are taking up something which librarians have been banging on about for many years.

The story was about the release of the the report of the Right to Know coalition. The report is a compilation of the hundreds of restrictions on the right of Australians to know things, that exist now. The Australian had an extensive feature on the report and the issues on Tuesday, and the report itself is available on the web. The report is 336 pages long, and is the work of the Independent Audit into the State of Free Speech in Australia, chaired by Irene Moss.

Australia's Right to Know, the coalition which commissioned this report, represents all of Australia's major media organisations, print, radio and TV, public and private. It is also supported by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) which represents people working in the media.

It is interesting in the election context that on 26 October the ALP made what appears to be a very strong commitment to open government. As reported in The Australian under the heading "Free Speech", Labor has promised to
  • abolish conclusive cerificates (by which a minister may avoid release of information by declaring that it is not in the public interest)
  • appoint an Information Commissioner, which would be an independent statutory office
  • provide better protection to journalists who refuse to name their sources
  • abolish the fee for appealing a decision of government
  • reform whistleblowers' legislation
  • work with the states to prevent court suppression orders being abused
This policy was praised by the Right to Know coalition, which commissioned the report referred to above. It called on the Liberal/National coalition to present its agenda for change. We understand that there will be a statement from the Government on these issues during the campaign.

We await a formal statement from the Coalition. There was an interesting piece in on the topic, pointing out some indications of reforms which may be proposed by the Coalition as the election campaign unfolds. Or not, as the case may be.

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