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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 396

Mr Holding asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to the article entitled How We Censor Our History in the Australian Financial Review of 4 January 1980, page 3 and in particular to the statement in that article that on 14 December 1979 an interdepartmental committee decided that several of the decisions of the Chifley Government of 1949 should be withheld from public view.

(2)   Who were the members of that Committee, what were their public service designations and salaries and which Departments did they represent.

(3)   Which Minister or Ministers gave approval for the Committee's recommendation to be carried out.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(   1 ) to (3) The conditions for release of Cabinet archives were set out in 1972 by the then Prime Minister in a statement dated 26 January 1972. A general 30-year access rule was determined in place of the then existing 50-year access rule, and the statement explained that before the papers were made available they would be examined in accordance with normal archival practice and policy to identify any papers which should not be released according to categories which were set down in that statement. The then Government authorized an interdepartmental committee to examine war time Cabinet records for public release. The Committee completed the task of examining Cabinet war time records in 1973 and has not met since. The bulk of war time Cabinet records became available for public access in 1 973.

Cabinet documents through the period 1945 to 19 December 1 949, the period of the Chifley Government, have been made available for public access annually under the 30-year access rule and in accordance with archives practice. For example, of over 2,000 Cabinet documents of the Chifley Government, 10 only are subject to restriction and three of these have only certain portions restricted. Documents for the period 19 December 1949 to I January 1950 were made available for public access early in 1 980.

It is the convention that until released for public access, the Cabinet documents of the governments of one political party are not made available to governments of another political party. Accordingly, under the authority of successive Prime Ministers, the Cabinet Office has been given the task of clearing Cabinet records for access in accordance with the established criteria. The vast bulk of Cabinet records have been made available publicly in accordance with the 30-year rule and very few documents have been withheld. In the event of any dispute about a particular Cabinet document, the facts of the matter would be brought to the attention of the Prime Minister for decision.

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