29 Sept 2016

How far up the secrecy peak are we in Australia?

Have we reached peak secrecy?

More than 200 years ago, James Madison, the father of the US Constitution, observed that the greatest threat to freedom is not violence or revolt, but the "gradual and silent encroachments of those in power". He was reflecting on the past, of course, but he might just as well have been looking to our future – which is why his remarks were cited by Federal Court Justice Susan Kenny, just five years ago, in a speech on Australia's secrecy provisions.
The notion that the powerful should have the sole discretion to determine what information to disclose, and when,  according to Kenny, but it's as firmly entrenched in the political mindset as ever. And why would it not be? Secrecy is all about clinging onto power – something which, given our recent predilection for cliffhanger elections and chucking first term PMs, is getting harder and harder to do.
Illustration: Andrew Dyson.
Illustration: Andrew Dyson. 
Despite the Turnbull government's professed enthusiasm for transparency and accountability, this year – marked by a shroud of secrecy over border protection, the targeting of whistleblowers, and the intransigence of the Attorney-General around the release of his diary – this could well be the low point for open government in Australia since Freedom of Information laws were introduced three decades ago.
Welcome to Peak Secrecy.

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