Reforms to counter a culture of secrecy: Open government in Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Government Information Quarterly, 2018, 35 (3), pp. 398 - 407
Issue Date:
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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Governments for most of recorded history have surrounded their information and decision-making with a culture of secrecy. By the latter half of the 20th century western liberal democracies, driven by right-to-know movements, slowly moved away from secrecy towards more openness of government through public access to its information. Australia, with a series of reforms beginning in the late 1970s, declared in 2010 that government information was a national resource, and public access was the default position. This paper, by providing a history of the Australian Commonwealth legislative and regulatory reforms, their impetus and interpretations, explores the ebb and flow of openness and the intended and sometimes unintended, consequences for traditional government secrecy. Using the complete freedom of information datasets made available by these reforms, the paper presents an insight into government attitudes to openness by providing access to its information. These datasets also enable research into government and bureaucratic actions to pushback against these reforms for pragmatic or ideological reasons. The paper concludes that although there continues to be worrying vestiges of secrecy, on balance, Australia has achieved much in countering a culture of secrecy and the delivering more openness of government.
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