The Human Rights Law Centre, Transparency International Australia and the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University made a joint submission to the Attorney-General’s Department.
The expansion of secrecy provisions in Australian law in recent decades has undermined our democracy and the fundamental rights of all Australians. The HRLC, TIA and Griffith University commend the Attorney-General for undertaking a review into secrecy provisions and make the following recommendations in order to strike a better balance between secrecy and transparency:
- Individual secrecy provisions should be removed with a preference for reliance on general secrecy provisions, except where there are compelling reasons for a standalone regime. Remaining secrecy provisions should be harmonised to the maximum extent possible.
- Secrecy provisions should include a serious harm requirement, requiring that a disclosure caused serious harm, was likely to cause serious harm or was intended to cause serious harm, to an essential public interest
- Secrecy provisions should not apply to ‘outsiders’, ie those who do not receive information in an official government capacity, except in exceptional circumstances.
- General secrecy provisions should apply only to communication, and not the wider current category of ‘dealing with’ information.
- Penalties for contravening secrecy provisions should be reduced to ensure proportionality.
- There should be a robust exemption for whistleblowers, human rights defenders and journalists communicating information in the public interest.