Australian secrecy regime
In Australia there is no 'Official Secrets' Act as such
at the national level. The Crimes Act 1914 covers
unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information and
there are specific provisions in other legislation.
Regulation 34(b) of the Public Service Regulations (a
statutory restriction on public comment by public servants
on any administrative action or the administration of
any department) were removed in 1974.
The states and territories have legislation dealing with
disclosure of their information, whether generally or
on a more restricted basis such as protection of registers
under the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act 1989.
Contract and other law provides protection in the private
sector for trade secrets and information supplied on a
confidential basis. Our intellectual property guide
deals with copyright, patent and other IP protection of
At the national level the Archives Act 1983 and
complementary Freedom of Information Act 1982 cover
the retention of information by the national bureaucracy
and access to that information.
The High Court in Commonwealth v John Fairfax &
Sons Ltd & Ors (the first major Australian case
seeking prevention of publication of sensitive government
documents relating to Australia's national security and
foreign policy) commented that
can scarcely be a relevant detriment to the government
that publication of material concerning its actions
will merely expose it to public discussion and criticism.
It is unacceptable in our democratic society that there
should be are restraint on the publication of information
relating to government when the only vice of that information
is that it enables the public to discuss, review and
criticize government action ...
If, however, it appears that disclosure will be inimical
to the public interest because national security, relations
with foreign countries or the ordinary business of government
will be prejudiced, disclosure will be restrained. There
will be cases in which the conflicting considerations
will be finely balanced, where it is difficult to decide
whether the public's interest in knowing and in expressing
its opinion, outweighs the need to protect confidentiality.
In Australia Greg Terrill's Secrecy & Openness:
The Federal Government From Menzies To Whitlam & Beyond
(Melbourne: Melbourne Uni Press 2000) considers official
secrecy, freedom of information and archives legislation
from a national information policy perspective. There
is a broader perspective in Archives & the Public
Good: Accountability and Records in Modern Society
(Westport: Quorum 2002) edited by Richard Cox & David
In The Name of National Security (North Ryde: LBC
1995) by Vincent Morabito & Hoong Lee is of interest
for information law in Australia. Terrill co-edited the
collection of papers in Open Government: Freedom Of
Information & Privacy (Basingstoke: Macmillan