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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2448

Question No. 455


Mr Campbell asked the Minister repesenting the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 6 September 1983:

(1) Is the Attorney-General able to say whether United States citizens have access to both general and personal files held by the United States Central Intelligence Agency under that country's Freedom of Information Act.

(2) Is it a fact that Australian citizens are not permitted to have access to Australian Security Intelligence Organisation files under any circumstances under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act.

(3) Will the Attorney-General (a) move to amend the Freedom of Information Act to permit access by Australian citizens to (i) general files of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and (ii) files relating to an individual's personal affairs and (b) table the documents containing the reasons advanced by ASIO to his predecessor for excluding ASIO from access under the Freedom of Information Act.

(4) Are the documents referred to in part (3) (b) accessible under the current Freedom of Information legislation, if so, have any requests been made for them to date.


Mr Lionel Bowen —The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) I am not in a position to provide authoritative information on United States legislation, but I understand the position to be that the United States Freedom of Information Act applies to documents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Whether a United States citizen would have access to any particular file held by the Central Intelligence Agency would, as I understand the position, depend on whether that file was exempt under one or more of the exemption provisions of the United States Freedom of Information Act.

(2) Yes. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is an exempt agency by virtue of section 7 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

(3) (a) The Government's policy on this matter is reflected in the Freedom of Information Amendment Act 1983 which recently received the Royal Assent. That Act does not remove the exempt agency status of ASIO and the other intelligence agencies under section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act also provides an express exemption for documents in the possession of other agencies which have originated with or been received from ASIO or the other intelligence agencies. Under the Australian Security Intellience Organization Act 1979 a person who is the subject of an adverse or qualified security assessment by ASIO is entitled, unless the Attorney-General certifies that disclosure of the existence of the assessment or of its contents would be prejudicial to the interests of security, to receive a copy of that assessment. The question whether any greater access should be provided to information in the possession of ASIO is a matter which will no doubt be considered in the context of any review undertaken by the Government of the general accountability of the Organization.

(3) (b) The then Attorney-General in his statement to the Senate at page 809 of Senate Hansard of 11 September 1980, explained the reasons for exempting the intelligence organisations from the Freedom of Information Act 1982. It would not be consistent with accepted practice to table papers relating to Cabinet decisions of a previous Government.

(4) So far as I am aware, no requests for any such documents have been made. A number of documents referred to in question 3 (b) are exempt under section 34 of the Freedom of Information Act. Whether all such documents are exempt has not been considered in the absence of a specific request.