Media Release

Transparency in Crisis as Governments ‘Turn Out the Lights’ on Information Requests

ACL Calls For an End to Culture of Secrecy Amid Denials and Delays 

Governments across Australia are increasingly ‘turning out the lights’ on transparency by refusing and delaying legitimate requests for public information, according to one of the nation’s leading advocacy organisations. 

Wendy Francis, the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) National Director for Politics, said, “A disturbing pattern of secrecy, denial, and obstruction is emerging from the State Government level to Federal Parliament, with citizens and groups facing unprecedented barriers to accessing official records. 

“From deeply concerning statistics being hidden in Tasmania to extraordinary FOI exemptions for Parliamentary departments, the default position now seems to be ‘nothing to see here’. 

“A recent ABC News investigation (Worthington, 2024) revealed that the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), which oversees the running of Parliament House, has remained completely exempt from Freedom of Information (FOI) laws for over a decade. This is despite serious accusations of a ‘toxic culture, the silencing of dissent and the routine cover-up of problems’ within the department.” 

Former judge and chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy KC, told the ABC he was “startled” to learn of DPS’ exemption, warning: “If we cannot have a system applicable to an agency, such as the parliamentary services department, that enables public scrutiny, then we are threatening the proper aspects of the rule of law and the proper application of democratic principles.” 

In Tasmania, the latest official data shows that in 2022-23, just 28.5% of assessed Right to Information (RTI) requests were granted in full – plummeting from 41.5% the previous year. Response times have also blown out, with only 61% processed in the statutory timeframe, down from 73% (Killick, 2024). 

The Mercury newspaper in Tasmania reported on the state government’s growing resistance to information requests, with the number of RTI applications reaching record highs while the scope and timeliness of responses deteriorates (Killick, 2024). 

Extending the veil of secrecy across the nation, the Northern Territory government has denied access to data to the ACL on the number of children being treated with puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgeries for gender dysphoria, claiming such information “does not exist”. 

“We are seeking critical information about serious medical interventions being performed on vulnerable children, and the NT Department of Health responded with a blanket denial that they even keep records. It beggars belief,” Ms Francis said. 

“Sunlight makes a great disinfectant, but Australian governments at all levels seem determined to pull down the shades and keep its citizens in the dark. From life-altering procedures on children to the conduct of our elected representatives, the public’s right to know is being systematically undermined. Secrecy is the enemy of accountability.” 

The ACL is calling for an urgent review of FOI laws and procedures nationwide to enforce a ‘presumption of disclosure’. Governments must drastically reduce the use of exemptions, exceptions, and redactions while introducing real penalties for non-compliance. 

“It’s time to end the secrecy and lack of accountability in government at every level,” Ms Francis said. “Democracy depends on transparency. No more excuses, no more delays, no more denials. Access to public information should be non-negotiable.” 

Sources 

Worthington, B. (2024, May 28). Parliament House department exempt from Freedom of Information laws dubbed an ‘anomaly’ that needs to change. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-05-28/parliament-house-freedom-of-information-exemption-secrecy/103897624 

Killick, D. (2024, May 28). RTI jump but little to show. The Mercury, p. 6. 

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