They may have a Freedom of Information Act on the books, but it is as useless as a limp something or other because the law gives the government basically unbridled discretion whether to release anything, regardless how trivial. It is pure political roguery.
Mathew Moore, from the Sydney Morning Herald, keeps a FOI blog that details just what I mean.
And, as is usual with Australian courts, the judiciary takes an accommodating deference to whatever it is the pollies want to do to the citizenry, regardless of their caprice or arbitrariness.
Concern on court's FOI ruling
The court today upheld a ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that The Australian newspaper's freedom of information editor, Michael McKinnon, was not entitled to access certain Treasury documents under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
At the centre of the case is sensitive Treasury information relating to personal taxation bracket creep and the number of wealthy people claiming the first home buyer's grant.
The AAT found there were reasonable grounds for the Treasurer's claim that disclosure would contradict the public interest.
The High Court ruled 3-2 in favour of that decision.
Labor's legal affairs spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, said the decision was a loss for the public.
"The whole community, not just The Australian newspaper, who took this case, are the losers today, as the government has been given more encouragement to keep flouting the basic tenets of democracy," Ms Roxon said.
She said the decision showed the Freedom of Information Act needed urgent reform.
"FOI has become a joke under this arrogant, out-of-touch government, but the law will clearly allow this to continue unless it is changed."
High Court rejects appeal over freedom of information
MEDIA companies and legal experts say a High Court decision means the 24-year-old Freedom of Information Act will be virtually useless in gaining access to sensitive government material.
Despite a dissenting judgement from Chief Justice Murray Gleeson and Justice Michael Kirby, a majority upheld a ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that it did not have the power to decide whether the release of the documents sought by McKinnon was in the public interest.
The court agreed with the tribunal, which had found the Treasurer, Peter Costello, had reasonable grounds to impose conclusive certificates on two sets of Treasury documents. Conclusive certificates block documents' release under freedom-of-information laws on grounds of public interest.
And see, FOI supporters condemn High Court decision.