Dont' spook the herd - your right to know

Today sees the front pages of some of Australia's leading pages covered with black-outs signifying redacted text.

Image: SBS

SBS reports that Australia's major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations - which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian - a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media's capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.  The report says that the ABC's managing director David Anderson also warned that Australia was at risk of becoming "the world's most secretive democracy".

The ABC, which is entirely government-funded, is a member of Australia's Right to Know coalition.

As part of the new campaign, Australia's Right to Know coalition - which was formed in 2007 - conducted research that found 87 per cent of people said they valued a transparent democracy but only 37 per cent believed they were currently living in one. While this campaign is centred around the existing laws and further proposed Federal government reforms there is a relevance at a local level with the community very much of the opinion that Eurobodalla Council keeps a very tight rein on what information is passed on to the community. Information requests from the Eurobodalla Council are often accompanied with the thick black line of redaction.

Something as simple as the question "Why isn't the Council advising the community how much they are selling the Moruya Racecourse for?" To be advised that that is Commercial In Confidence at the request of Racing NSW so that they can undertake other purchases around the state without those sellers knowing how much they paid is pushing the limits of expectation of 'best representation of the community by Council'. Had the sale not been under-handed and the property listed on the open market then its price would have been there for all to see. How much did the race course sell for? We have no idea other than to be advised that the transaction will appear at some time in the Racing NSW financials. Will the sale price end up being revealed in the Eurobodalla Council financials ... No. The amount the Moruya Racecourse sells for will be reported in a single line entry of asset sales.

The Eurobodalla Council has made an art form of mocking Openness and Transparency over recent years by defying Freedom of Information applications and they continue to do all of their work behind doors in briefings that heavily restricts councillors from being able to openly discuss upcoming issues without threats of Codes of Conduct for breaches in confidentiality.

Jim Bright has openly addressed Council on the extraordinary level of secrecy and non transparency that has prevailed within the council in recent years providing councillors with updates on his progress with formal 'freedom of information" requests such as the request for Huntfest documentation and his request to the NSW Office of Sport for a copy of the ESC's application for a grant towards the cost of construction of the proposed aquatic centre in Batemans Bay; a grant application that was made under the provisions of the NSW government's Regional Sports Infrastructure Fund. Whilst the NSW Office of Sport were happy to release the application Council blocked it as they did with their continued refusal to release Huntfest information, even after being advised to do so. A recent comment directed towards a Councillor in Council Chambers revealed that this Council likes to carry out the bulk of their decisions behind closed doors in briefing sessions "we have talked about this time and time again in briefing sessions". Unfortunately for the ratepayers and residents they are not allowed in the briefings sessions. The media once was however under the new regime that has also become a thing of the past. The most recent act of this council in closing down the public's access to information was their determination to no longer live stream, video record or archive public forum presentations such as those given by Mr Bright. Council added to this veil of secrecy by endorsing the Office Of Local Government directive that all Codes of Conduct raised against Councillors be strictly confidential and that any member of the public revealing the details or the outcomes of these codes of conduct will face consequences. And not a single councillor challenged this or protested this. One expression is "keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit" however the most popular defence of this council is to not reveal too much as "you don't want to spook the herd".

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