Redacted Gif for Press Freedom
Redacted Gif for Press Freedom

Australians fear laws denying them basic information

There is widespread concern among Australians that increasing secrecy is denying them their right to know about assaults in nursing homes they may be considering for a family member or moves by the tax office to take money from their bank accounts without notice.

New research that exposes these fears also reveals many people believe their freedom is under threat.

Supporting this, legal experts say the trend away from free speech and open justice has resulted in Australia becoming the most secretive democracy in the world.

These startling findings emerge as part of an unprecedented media campaign that has begun today through coordinated front pages across every daily newspaper in the nation.

 

With the support of major television networks and online publishers, the campaign is expected to reach every adult in the country.

It aims to show how a rising culture of confidentiality and concealment is keeping Australians from being properly informed about the society they live in and the decisions that are made by those they vote for.

To restore the right to know, law reforms are being sought, which include allowing news organisations to contest the application for warrants to raid journalists' homes and offices, as well as exemptions from laws for reporters that would put them in jail for doing their jobs.

At the heart of the campaign is new research which shows high levels of anxiety among Australians about the erosion of their right to know important information.

The research finds 81 per cent of people are concerned there are thousands of complaints made about aged-care homes, including neglect and assault, that the federal government will not share with the public. Nearly half were "extremely concerned".

The information is kept confidential under provisions of the Aged Care Act.

"What's to hide about this?" said Michael Miller, News Corp Australia's leader in the Right to Know campaign.

"All of us know someone in an aged-care home - it might be mum or dad or our grandparents,'' Mr Miller said.

"But the government won't tell us who committed these assaults. Was it staff or patients? If you think that's wrong, then you should start questioning why the government is so secretive."

When respondents to the survey were told the Australian Tax Office could take money out of an account without an owner's knowledge - and that the employee who told the media about this faces 161 years in jail - 78 per cent said they were concerned, including 49 per cent who were extremely concerned.

UNSW's George Williams said Australia had become the most secretive democracy in the world.

"That's not the image Australians have but unfortunately that's where the law has brought us," he said.

Professor Williams said the information people had a right to know could affect how they vote.

"There might be a scandal and that someone isn't fit for office," he said.


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