Transparency in government is the basic cornerstone of a free country and essential to democracy. In order to make an informed choice when voting and to prevent failed policy and waste from being ignored, citizens require unhindered access to information regarding government at all levels. This includes information on the financial and social impacts associated with government policies.
Politicians need to remember this is our government implementing our will with our money. The one and only exception to this that should be acceptable is matters of national security in which revelation of information may compromise our safety. Exposure of fraud, corruption, waste or failed policy should never be an excuse to censor information.
There have been several events documented in the media recently that highlight the ability of government here in Australia at both the state and national levels to censor information it may find embarrassing to its own performance. One such event is news of the AFP seizing documents on the potentially poor management of the NBN roll out. This event has highlighted the ability of the government to censor information on its performance. When the information is being intentionally kept from the public as a federal election approaches, it is hard see it as anything other than dishonesty.
The argument that the information should remain secret until discussed in parliament is a very poor one. It raises the suspicion that excuses and alibis need to be prepared. Why should the public not be aware of what is going on at every step of the way with its money? What legitimate argument for sequestering such information can possibly be made? Does the government really believe it is above scrutiny? Or that it only answers when it feels it is a time that best suits the politicians own interests and harm to their careers can be minimised? Is this the way a free and open government functions?
The growth in censorship is reaching further. It's no secret that the government desperately wants to control what you have access to on the internet. The great internet filter plan may have been shelved but unfortunately your politicians have been working hard to control what you are allowed to see and hear.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is why? Are there not already laws that cover downloading copyrighted materials in violation of laws? Are there not already laws against illegal content? What is the value in blocking sites? Can't people easily get around this anyway? Most importantly, why is there no transparency in what would be blocked? Why does the Australian Government insist on keeping it all secret from the public it represents? This is not an accountable and open government.
It's easy to get the impression that the Australian Government has a serious big brother problem. I am not one for conspiracy theories and generally hold the view that most Western democracies have governments that are a reflection of the will of the people. This sometimes gets hijacked by special-interest groups or industry. However, there is something going on here in Australia that transcends the norms of a free society and creates the specter of more totalitarian regimes. We all need to stop and think if this is a road we want to go down.
We do currently enjoy a high degree of freedom. One can visit sites such as FreedomHouse.org to see how we compare. But we seem to be at a crossroads where we need to make a decision.
Do we wish to continue to live as a free people empowered to access information from a wealth of sources globally and have the ability to hold our leaders accountable and demand they remain responsive to our will? Or do we wish to become a nanny state in which we abdicate our own free will to a government that makes our decisions for us and has the ability to keep its own workings secret?
The choice should be easy.