28 May 2012
Revelations of what the Australian Government knew about the US campaign against WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange expose the fatal flaws in our FOI system, the Greens said today.
Australian Greens spokesperson for Communications, Senator Scott Ludlam said the FOI system was in “critical condition” after his December 2011 FOI requests yielded virtually nothing about the potential extradition of Australian citizen Mr Assange to Sweden or the USA.
“The world needs publishing organisations like Wikileaks while governments maintain a culture of non-disclosure and while delays, excuses and redactions are the results of FOI requests,” Senator Ludlam.
“We now know – due only to diplomatic cables published in the Sydney Morning Herald – that the Australian Government has closely monitored the US Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks for at least 18 months. The US campaign to get Assange has been the subject of US-Australian intelligence exchanges, and the Australian embassy in Washington reported ‘a broad range of possible charges are under consideration, including espionage and conspiracy’.”
“Yet my requests to the Attorney General, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, Department for Foreign Affairs, Attorney General’s Department and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were met with refusal, delay, excuses and one set of virtually useless documents.
“After a four month delay and breaching the timelines set by the Information Commission, the Attorney General’s Department provided some documents blacked out so as to be meaningless, including a redacted versions of my own Senate motion, possibly an attempt at humour.
“A cursory glance at the timeline tracking these requests shows that my office has responded very promptly to every request for clarification, reduction of scope, request for public interest reasons and payment, yet the Departments exploit the times allotted – or even beyond them – for maximum delay.
“While not charging people $30 for FOI requests is welcome, promises made for a culture of disclosure, or assurances that “embarrassment to the government” or “causing confusion and unnecessary debate” would not be used to withhold access to documents have not been upheld when the government is at risk of political embarrassment,” Senator Ludlam concluded.