Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Breach Port Statistics secrecy and end up in the slammer

Breach the secrecy provisions of the Port Statistics Act and you can face three months in the slammer. Now I have no idea what this Port Statistics Act is actually about but with a name like that I find it hard to believe that any secrecy provisions are needed in the first place. So, apparently, do some of those working on an inquiry into Commonwealth Secrecy laws for the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). The ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot, drew special attention to it when releasing a community consultation paper yesterday which seeks ideas and feedback about how we balance the need to maintain the secrecy and confidentiality of some government documents with a commitment to increased openness and transparency.
Perhaps it is just because I spent a year or two in my youth back in the Commonwealth Public Service Board working on this very subject that makes me think that this Review of Secrecy Laws (Issues Paper 34) is one of the more important documents released under this first year Labor Government. It surely deserves to be taken very seriously because it goes right to the heart of the way we are governed.
The ALRC has so far identified 370 distinct secrecy provisions. These provisions are scattered throughout 166 pieces of primary and subordinate legislation.
The majority of the secrecy provisions identified by the ALRC to date establish one or more criminal offences. Most of these are indictable offences—that is, offences punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding 12 months. The remainder are summary offences—that is, offences which are not punishable by imprisonment, or are punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months. The ALRC has identified only one civil penalty provision in its mapping exercise.
The Port Statistics Act is in the summary category as are the secrecy provisions in the Dental Benefits Act and the Dairy Produce Act.
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