National Archives Worry About Slips in National Secrets Due to FOI Changes

Changes to the Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are underway in Australia, and the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia in Canberra says that this is good news for the public. Mr. Gibbs worries, however, that the easing of FOI rules could lead to sensitive documents being inadvertently released to the public.

In addition to the possibility that secret records and Cabinet documents slip through the cracks, the legislative change will also increase the staff's workload. This comes at the same time as increased pressure of meeting the Federal Government's efficiency dividend.

The agency reported having problems responding to requests for access to information even before the changes. Mr. Gibbs says that while they managed to respond to 98% of requests within the three month time limit. "Performance was less satisfactory in responses to the [2% of requests] requiring more sensitive and complex access examinations".

"What we're talking about is national security essentially, and personal sensitivity [.] Twenty years can be mid-career or operational for a national security issue; it can still be a live operation".

Mr. Gibbs says the National Archives have known about the FOI legislation change, and that they have protected the necessary section of the Archives from any of the efficiency dividend savings. The section is "immune" to the changes, he says, "because the risks are too high".