The Coalition’s long war on transparency continues in the government’s childish games with an allegedly sensitive confidential volume of the trade union royal commission report.
The government has had three separate positions on the volume: first it was to remain confidential on the basis that royal commissioner (and would-be Liberal Party speech maker) Dyson Heydon claimed (without providing any evidence) that releasing it might place royal commission witnesses in danger. When crossbench senators whose votes are necessary for the government to pass its anti-CFMEU bill re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission demanded access, the government changed its mind and offered access to a redacted version of the report. Yesterday it changed its position again and offered access to a single representative of the Greens and Labor as well — an offer that has correctly been declined on the basis of arrant silliness.
Since its election in 2013, the Coalition has consistently tried to curb transparency. Entire areas of government operations have been ruled beyond the scope of parliamentary scrutiny. Ministers have misled Parliament with impunity. The public service has been encouraged to treat freedom of information laws with contempt. Whistleblowers have been pursued and journalists threatened with jail.
It was to be hoped that Malcolm Turnbull, a man who made his legal reputation on one of the signal moments of transparency in Australian law, the Spycatcher case, would bring a change from the Abbott government’s deep-seated loathing of transparency. So far, the signs are that we’re in for more of the same.