Subject: Defence insists on Balibo blackout; Department opposes release of papers

via Joyo News

The Canberra Times [Australia]

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Defence insists on Balibo blackout; Department opposes release of papers

By Philip Dorling National Affairs Correspondent

The Federal Government intends to fight to prevent the release of secret intelligence papers that would shed new light on the deaths of the Balibo Five journalists in East Timor in 1975. The Defence Department told a Senate estimates committee this week that it would oppose an application by Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Clinton Fernandes for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to overturn a Defence decision not to release 41 current intelligence reports written in the lead-up to Indonesia's December 1975 invasion of East Timor.

Defence deputy secretary Peter Jennings told the Senate committee that Dr Fernandes' application for access to the still classified reports of the former Joint Intelligence Organisation had been determined within the department's ''new culture'' of openness in dealing with freedom of information matters. However, he said releasing the papers would damage national security.

The 35-year-old reports are understood to show former prime minister Gough Whitlam's knowledge of Indonesia's preparations to invade the then Portuguese colony and cross-border incursions, including the raid that resulted in the deaths of the five Australia-based journalists at Balibo in October 1975.

A former Defence intelligence analyst and historical adviser to producer Robert Connolly's movie Balibo, Dr Fernandes first applied for access to the reports in mid-2007. After more than two years' delay and only following the start of legal action, the department released a number of documents, some formerly classified Top Secret For Australian Eyes Only. However, almost all of the contents have been blacked out on the publicly released copies on the grounds the information ''continues to be sensitive''.

Independent MP Robert Oakeshott recently called on Defence Minister John Faulkner to intervene in the case and press his department to release more information. ''Yes, it may cause some political discomfort for former prime ministers Whitlam and Fraser, but let's get the story told and have an open and honest debate about events from 35 years ago,''

Mr Oakeshott told Federal Parliament. However, Senator Faulkner told the Senate committee he would not become involved in the matter. ''Obviously, I am not handling it; I am not an FoI decision-maker in the department,'' he said. ''I am not ... involved in the decision- making processes at all nor should I be.'' Mr Jennings said Defence was preparing affidavits to put to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to justify the exemptions from public access that were being claimed. A hearing will be held in August.


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