Alarm over Australian 'culture of secrecy'

·1-min read

A new report expresses alarm at more than 90 counter-terrorism laws passed since September 11, 2001, and a "culture of secrecy" over Australia's government.

The 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States will be marked in various ways across the world this weekend.

A GetUp-commissioned report rakes through 20 years of counter-terrorism laws it says obstruct transparency, undermine democracy and in some cases criminalise journalism.

The resulting Democracy Dossier finds Australia has waved through significantly more counter-terrorism laws, amounting to more than 5000 pages of rules, than other comparable nations.

"Like Australia's historical wartime powers, our counter-terrorism laws have been justified as extreme responses to an immediate threat," the report says.

"However, unlike their wartime equivalents, these laws are a permanent fixture.

"In 20 years, only one significant power has been repealed, and those with expiry dates have been routinely renewed."

GetUp flags the government's "culture of secrecy" extends to a reluctance to comply with freedom of information requests.

The organisation wants changes including de-centralising power from the expansive Department of Home Affairs and reviewing the Public Interest Disclosure Act to strengthen whistleblower protections.

It also wants exemptions for professional public interest journalism included in every offence that covers receiving or publishing information under federal laws.

GetUp canvassed police raids on the ABC's Sydney headquarters and the home of then News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, as well as the prosecution of whistleblowers Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery.

"Extensive lawmaking in response to terrorism, combined with an entrenched culture of government secrecy, has put our democracy in a troubling state," the report says.

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