16 February 2006

Wheat and war

The Cole inquiry into Australian wheat sales to Saddam Hussein's Iraq gives rise to the age-old questions of political scandals: what did they (our beloved leaders) know and when did they know it?

Documents are requested/subpoenaed, assurances are given that this is all the documents there are, etc. Legalistic jousting as to which documents are in play and which aren't is all part of the game. There is no document that proves the Foreign Minister, the Trade Minister or the Prime Minister have done anything wrong, nor does any document comprehensively clear them.

Critics of the current Australian government complain about the lack of documentary evidence to support major policy decisions. Some claim there is a deliberate policy within the Federal bureaucracy of not recording information that might embarrass the government, and definitely not submitting any such document - were any to exist - to a Minister's office. Whether or not this is true, it points to the end of a trend that has been a feature of government policymaking in western democracies for a generation: Freedom of Information.

In Australia, most Freedom of Information legislation was introduced by Liberal-National governments. Some were introduced by doomed Labor governments hoping to fend off landslide defeats and make the incoming Liberal-National government a bit more vulnerable than it may otherwise have been. They tend to have been watered down by Labor governments by successive amendments almost to the point of irrelevance. Why seek documentation that doesn't exist? If there is a no-documentation policy (unwritten of course!) FoI is completely and utterly irrelevant, offering citizens and media all the coverage and utility of an ashtray on a motorbike.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Andrew

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