John Clarke, the man conducting an independent inquiry into the Mohammed Haneef affair, is being snowed by federal agencies keen to escape accountability for their actions in the wrongful detention and charging of former Gold Coast doctor on terrorism charges. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the statement issued by Mr Clarke yesterday, announcing that much of the documentation submitted to his inquiry would have to remain confidential.

“Since I was appointed to conduct this Inquiry in March 2008 I have endeavoured to meet the desire of the Attorney-General and my own assurances to make public as much of the proceedings and material before the Inquiry as was possible without jeopardising matters of national security or pending trials in Australia or overseas. Reluctantly I have today advised the Attorney-General that it will not be feasible to make public as much information as was initially envisaged, Mr Clarke said in his Statement.

It seems the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, the Department of Immigration and other federal agencies are playing hardball with Mr Clarke.

“A very high proportion, however, of the material from departments and agencies carries a security classification which limits the extent to which it can be shown to other people or disclosed generally … While the documents have, in the main, been delivered to the Inquiry, gaining access to the documents has involved a protracted period of negotiation. The delivery of the documents has, however, been on a confidential basis and the Inquiry has not been given authority to publish those which are classified,” Clarke notes.

The AFP is blaming its counterparts in the UK for it not being able to remove the Confidential or Highly Classified badge from some of its documentation. The UK Police and prosecuting authorities have come up with the utterly specious argument that to do so would be to jeopardise forthcoming criminal trials in that country!

That there is definitely a desire on the part of federal government agencies to keep the public from knowing just who was responsible for the Haneef debacle is borne out by a decision handed down by the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal on July 8.

The Immigration Department originally claimed that handing over 282 documents sought by Dr Haneef’s lawyers was not in the public interest. After changing its mind and weeding out duplicate documents, the Department refused to hand over six documents. The AAT found however that the claim for secrecy was valid only in relation to one of those six documents — in other words one of an original 282!

And the AAT was unimpressed with the Immigration Department’s claims of public interest.

“We find that no convincing evidence has been presented to the Tribunal by the Department establishing any direct, significant or specific disadvantage that would be likely to flow from disclosure of the documents,” the AAT said.

If the Rudd government is serious about holding government officials and law enforcement agencies to account for the appalling treatment meted out to Dr Haneef, then it should give John Clarke full Royal Commission powers so he can fight the culture of secrecy without having his hands tied behind his back.

Peter Fray

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