ALRC to review government secrecy laws

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has been requested by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland MP, to review secrecy provisions in federal legislation.

The Terms of Reference ask the ALRC to focus on:

• ‘the importance of balancing the need to protect Commonwealth information and the public interest in an open and accountable system of government’;
• ‘the increased need to share information within and between governments, and with the private sector’; and
• achieving more ‘comprehensive, consistent and workable laws and practices in relation to the protection of Commonwealth information’.

Federal legislation currently contains a large number of secrecy and confidentiality provisions that impose duties on public servants not to disclose information that comes to them by virtue of their office—and many of these provisions create serious criminal offences for unauthorised disclosure, whether or not that results in any harm to the national interest.

The ALRC’s first task is to map all of the secrecy and confidentiality provisions, which are found across a wide range of laws and regulations.

The ALRC will prepare one or more discussion documents for consultation, before providing its final report and recommendations to the Attorney-General by 31 October 2009.

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