I came across a recent copy of “Defence” magazine, the in-house magazine for those who inhabit Australia’s department of things military. I was struck by a full-page ad on the back cover, saying this:
NEED TO KNOW PRINCIPLE
THE AVAILABILITY OF OFFICIAL INFORMATION SHOULD BE LIMITED TO THOSE WHO NEED TO USE OR ACCESS THE INFORMATION TO DO THEIR WORK
It’s the Cornerstone to Good Security
A wonderful example of the prevailing attitude to secrecy in this Government. By default, “official information” should be withheld from the public.
This is totally, utterly, completely, the wrong way around. 180 degrees wrong. Incorrect. False. Go back and read your textbooks again.
Democracy thrives in an environment of maximum openness of information. And democracy is diminished more and more, as secrecy becomes the normal way to conduct government business.
Secrecy should be the exception, needing special justification. Many a time I’ve heard of – and witnessed – pointless restriction of information. My best guess is that perhaps 10% of the currently classified material truly warrants it. The default position of the typical public servant is, when in doubt, to keep it secret. Naturally, as there are significant consequences for erring on the side of openness (especially under this secrecy-obsessed Government), and almost never consequences for erring on the side of secrecy.
A responsible government – one that actually cared about the health of democracy and society as a whole – would institute a policy where secrecy is a special case, an unusual action requiring particular justification.
Excessive government secrecy is a cancer on democracy, a slow poison for society.