Australia delayed legal process over hidden arms trade documents

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The Australian government has been accused of “freedom of information abuse at its worst” and unnecessarily dragging out an already lengthy legal battle over a $1.3bn arms deal. The government has spent nearly two years trying to stop the release of a report by the auditor general, that criticised the purchase of 1,100 Hawkeis combat vehicles built by Thales.

In 2018 the attorney general, Christian Porter, used extraordinary powers to redact parts of the audit, and it later emerged that Thales had pushed for the censoring of the document, which suggested that Australia could have paid half the amount for a different combat vehicle, via a US military program. Thales requested six key paragraphs be removed from the attorney general’s report arguing that these paragraphs would impact the Hawkeis “marketability”. Australian senator Rex Patrick lodged a freedom of information request for the unredacted report in 2018, which was resisted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and languished for 12 months in the appeals tribunal.

The government raised seven new arguments against the release, two of which were complex enough to require a judge – a day before the case management hearing the government abandoned these arguments. Patrick told the Guardian that the “whole saga has been an abuse of process, with every trick in the book being used to dissuade me from continuing to pressing my rights and to delay the information being made public.”

 

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