Monday 17th of May 2021

freedom of information...



















Australia’s government has major issues with transparency and is actively trying to keep citizens uninformed and unaware, a senator leading the charge against the culture of secrecy has said.

On Saturday, independent senator Rex Patrick slammed Australia’s Freedom of Information (FOI) process, and threatened to take the freedom of information commissioner to court over “unreasonable” delays in the review process.

Senator Patrick, a strong advocate for open government, has written to Australian information commissioner Angelene Falk, demanding she makes decisions on his FOI requests – some of which have been with her office for two years.


FOIs play an integral role in keeping the public informed of everything from how much taxpayer money is being spent to the efficiency of government services and what is really being considered behind closed doors by their elected representatives.

Such requests can be used to reveal information that politicians’ press offices will not freely release to journalists or members of the public – such as TND’s recent FOI request which revealed figures showing the Fair Work Ombudsman’s failure to combat exploitation on farms. 

Senator Patrick’s letter has prompted advocates for transparency and those familiar with the pitfalls of the FOI process to reveal on the record the tricks the Australian government uses to hide information from the public.

The South Australian senator told The New Daily the FOI process has been designed to keep government secrets.

“If people are to engage in democracy they have to be informed,” he said.

“To be able to participate you need access to timely and up-to-date info.”

In the last year, FOIs filed by journalists and human rights organisations have revealed how Australia cooperated with Myanmar’s military junta, that $3 million of taxpayer money was invested in an Adani-owned company funding a crucial rail link, and racial profiling by police. 

But there is much more Australian’s don’t know – which the FOI process is supposed to reveal.


Current issues, like how many Pfizer vaccines we have and where they are, or how the taxpayer-funded COVID-19 commission – which is stacked with individuals connected to the gas industry – is handling potential conflicts of interest. 

“Officers black out the entire document and only reveal what they think is acceptable to release,” Senator Patrick said.

Acknowledging that governments should be able to keep some secrets – military and national security operations, for instance – and that the privacy of citizens should be protected, Senator Patrick said that the government is using these laws to look after itself.

“Everything the government does is done with the taxpayer’s coin. It should be made available,” he said.

“Often you will find there is a close correlation between secrecy and incompetence and corruption.

“That’s why you want to have access to information.”

‘All sorts of tricks’

Denis Muller is a senior research fellow at Melbourne University’s  Centre for Advancing Journalism and knows the FOI process better than most. He was a journalist for 27 years and FOI editor at The Age. 

“The process has always been bad. It has never got any better,” Dr Muller said.

Over the years he picked up on the tricks certain departments use to hide information from the public.

One department put the important information on post-it notes, which then mysteriously got pulled off before they arrived.

“The public service plays all sorts of tricks,” Dr Muller said.

“Once they redacted every word except the conjunctions and definite articles.”

The other trick was to “starve you out” by taking months or even years to send through information, making it irrelevant by the time it finally arrives.

“It’s just nonsense,” Dr Muller said, adding that the implementation of FOI laws is a blunt tool against a deep-seated culture of secrecy.

“They don’t want us to know about their bungles and wastage of money and their stupid decisions,” Dr Muller said.

“They use FOI to cover up things. It is information we’re entitled to know.”


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the news corp crime wave...

From the New matilda Editor:


If you live in Far North Queensland, we’ve got some good news and we’ve got some bad news. The bad news is you’re currently in the grip of a crime wave that defies description… and logical statistical analysis. The good news is that’s just the opinion of some News Corp hacks plus one old man who spends his lunch breaks on a park bench shouting at clouds… because they’re really toxic gas blooms controlled by Vladimir Putin! Over to Ed’s Desk, an occasional New Matilda column where we take an actual news story that got published, and waste 10 minutes of your life trying to fix it.




INTRO] We need to divert police resources away from Townsville and Cairns and redeploy them to the southeast because it’s clear, based on how they vote, Far North Queenslanders have put the white flag up on crime, writes Peter Gleeson.


[ED’S NOTE] Hahahaha, good one Peter. Channelling the boys from the Betoota Advocate! Still, this is a serious topic. Will have the subs desk amend, but thanks for the laugh!


[BODY COPY] ‘Big spike in FNQ crime’. That was the front-page headline last week in the Cairns Post, as it reported an 87 per cent increase in armed robberies over the past 12 months.

ED’S NOTE: Oh shit…. you’re serious… okay, sorry… Peter, the headline was actually ‘Big RISE in FNQ crime’. There’s an important difference between a ‘spike’ and a ‘rise’. A spike suggests it might be temporary, whereas a rise infers longevity. Company policy is to scare people into impulse purchases ‘over the longer-term’. You should already be across this, but in the event of future confusion, please consult page 65 of the News Corp style manual, headed ‘How to scare the bejeezus out of everyone’. It’s in the ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ chapter, just after the section titled ‘Stocking up on canned goods for the apocalypse, with Alan Jones’.
Also… I know you’re just trying to do your job by upsetting Courier-Mail readers, and so it’s not your job to fact-check the Cairns Post… but FFS Peter, it’s the Cairn’s Post. I checked the stats. They’re both wrong, and wildly misleading (i.e. it’s technically impossible to be wrong AND misleading at the same time, and yet….). For future reference, in the past decade, Cairns had two bad months (February and March 2020) where armed robberies ‘spiked’ (see what I did there, Peter). The Cairns Post has relied on this to skew the results. In truth, the average number of armed robberies per month from 2001 to 2010, and from 2011-2020 is 29 and 31, respectively…. i.e. in other words, the actual rate of armed robberies on a per head of population basis this decade is lower than it was in the previous decade. Long story short… you’ve chosen a non-story to write your own non-story about. You might need to think about choosing a different non-story to base your non-story on. Also… it literally took me 10 minutes to check these stats, Peter. I realize that’s normally how long it takes you to write your whole column, but still…?


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