The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) today announced a national two day phone-in and new online discussion forum as part of its commitment to engaging in widespread community consultation on reform of Commonwealth secrecy laws.
Anyone who has ever been involved in handling Commonwealth information will have the chance to speak out about their personal experiences and concerns in a national secrecy phone-in on Wednesday 11 February and Thursday 12 February. The ALRC is also launching a new consultation vehicle through its Talking Secrecy online forum.
ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot, said:
“Consultation is part of the ALRC’s DNA and we are determined to use new technologies to expand that process. The online forum and national phone-in together comprise the next critical steps in the ALRC’s consultation process following the recent release of the Issues Paper, Review of Secrecy Laws (IP 34, 2008). This paper seeks feedback about how to balance the need to maintain an open and transparent government, while still protecting some Commonwealth documents and information—for the purposes of national security, for example.
“The ALRC now has mapped over 500 secrecy provisions spread across 173 pieces of legislation and these—associated with a myriad of administrative, civil and criminal penalties—present a complex and confusing scenario of options for individuals handling Commonwealth information.
“Some secrecy provisions—normally pertaining to defence and security—regulate the activities of anyone, including the media, who comes into possession of Commonwealth documents or information, imposing obligations on them. If the individual handles the information incorrectly, he or she may face heavy penalties, including jail.”
Commissioner-in-charge of the Secrecy Inquiry, Professor Rosalind Croucher, said that the phone-in will enable individuals to speak about their personal experiences with complete anonymity and will assist in shaping the development of proposals, and ultimately recommendations, for workable laws and practices.
“To facilitate more public discussion about secrecy laws, the ALRC’s Talking Secrecy online forum will encourage interactive comments and debate that will run the course of the Inquiry. This is a first for the ALRC.
“The ALRC would like to hear people’s views about a range of questions such as: do secrecy laws stop you from doing your job; what information, if any, should be kept secret; how easy is it to comply with secrecy laws; when should you be allowed to disclose Commonwealth information; and have you or someone you know been in trouble for breaching a secrecy law and, if so, what happened?”
To participate in the secrecy phone-in call 1800 760 291 between 8:00am and 8:00pm (EST) on Wednesday 11 February and Thursday 12 February 2009 (calls are free from landlines but calls from mobiles will incur a charge).
The Talking Secrecy online forum can be accessed at http://talk.www.alrc.gov.au.