Australia's secrecy laws are set for a shakeup after the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) tabled its final report on the issue in Federal Parliament today.
The report, Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia, is the result of a 15-month inquiry and sets out 61 recommendations for a move towards a more open and accountable government, while at the same time protecting legitimately confidential information.
In a statement released today, president of the ALRC Professor Rosalind Croucher spoke about the complex nature of secrecy laws.
"The management of information can be conceived of as a spectrum, with openness of information and protection of information at opposite ends," she said.
"Secrecy provisions are situated at different points in the spectrum - at times emphasising protection; at times facilitating handling, sharing and disclosure."
Overall, the ALRC report identifies 506 secrecy provisions within 176 pieces of Commonwealth legislation.
Within these findings, numerous major issues were identified, including the catch-all nature of some provisions, an over-reliance on criminal sanctions, inconsistency in the elements and framing of provisions, and inconsistent language and penalties.
Croucher said the ALRC's aim was to "wind back" the use of criminal sanctions for unauthorised disclosure of government information - a penalty which has been unpopular over the years - and promote use of disciplinary and administrative sanctions instead.
"Criminal sanctions should only be imposed where the unauthorised release of information has caused, or is likely or intended to cause, harm to identified public interests," she said.
Finally, the ALRC recommends that all Australian Government agencies adopt information-handling policies and guidelines in order to clarify requirements under secrecy laws.