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65 reforms proposed for secrecy laws

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has proposed 65 reforms in a discussion paper into federal secrecy laws.Community feedback is being sought on how to balance increased openness and…

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has proposed 65 reforms in a discussion paper into federal secrecy laws.

Community feedback is being sought on how to balance increased openness and transparency in government with the need to maintain secrecy and confidentiality of some Commonwealth information.

ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot said 507 secrecy provisions had been identified across 175 pieces of legislation, including 358 distinct secrecy offences carrying a variety of criminal penalties.

Commissioner in charge of the inquiry Professor Rosalind Croucher said the ALRC had proposed a substantial decrease in the use of criminal sanctions by limiting prosecutions to unauthorised disclosures which caused harm and were not in the public interest.

"These include harm to national security, defence or international relations, law enforcement operations, the physical safety of a person or public health. Of course, the offence is more severe where the person intends to cause harm or is recklessly indifferent to the consequences," she said.

"Mostly, however, it seems preferable to deal with these issues through better education and training, improved information-handling practices, and by utilising public service disciplinary procedures."

Croucher said the ALRC also believed reform could involve creating a new general secrecy offence applicable to Commonwealth officers and consolidating scattered specific offences.

"Finally, in doing all of this, we must be careful to fit in with the surrounding matrix of laws on freedom of information, privacy and whisteblower protection - areas which are also currently under review," she said

Submissions to the ALRC's discussion paper are due by 7 August. The final report and recommendations will be provided to the Attorney-General in October.

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