Subject: Defence insists on Balibo blackout; Department opposes release
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
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
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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