IN 1982, the federal parliament passed the Freedom of Information Act, providing what the Commonwealth describes as "a legally enforceable right of access to government documents".
Various state and territory governments followed suit, with a NSW Freedom of Information Act gazetted in 1989.
This was replaced in 2009 by the present legislation - the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 or GIPA - which is said to have "created new rights to information that are designed to meet community expectations of more open and transparent government".
JOANNE McCARTHY: Why the Your Right To Know campaign matters
Unfortunately, for such fine sentiments expressed, there is ample evidence to indicate that governments use the laws more as limits on what they need to produce, rather than protocols to encourage an open dialogue with the public.
Their nickname as "freedom from information" laws is well-earned.
As a member of the Your Right To Know coalition comprising virtually all of Australia's major media organisations, the Newcastle Herald is part of a campaign to counter what we believe is a substantial erosion of press freedom, and with it the public's right to know what is being done in their name, and with their tax dollars.
Today, we launch Your Right To Know: A Newcastle Herald series.
It's a newsroom-wide investigation seeking to uncover the truth about important issues in the Hunter.
The foundation of this series, which has been supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, is a suite of freedom of information applications.
Today, journalist Donna Page reports on the Rutherford waste firm Truegain - and the ineffectual efforts of the NSW Environment Protection Authority to bring it to account - uses documents obtained under GIPA to highlight the differences between what the public is told, and what is happening behind the scenes.
In July last year, the EPA's public stance was that Truegain had treated almost half of the PFAS-contaminated wastewater stored on its site.
What it didn't say - and what it took a GIPA application to reveal - was that treatment had stopped three months before, and that the mobile plant being used in the process was being "demobilised".
Of itself, the original EPA statement was not incorrect.
In the Herald's experience, politicians and public officials commit sins of omission rather than commission. In other words, it's what they leave out, as much as what they say, that matters.
Such behaviour shows why the Your Right To Know campaign, and a free and trustworthy media in general, are so important.
In an era when bad actors stare down legitimate criticism with a sneer of "fake news", journalistic scrutiny is more important than ever.
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