source: The Canberra Times
Saturday, September 11, 2010

Govt sets up new obstacle in Balibo case

By Philip Dorling National Affairs Correspondent

The Federal Government has stepped up its legal 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.

In one of the new Government's first decisions, Attorney-General
Robert McClelland this week signed a ''public interest certificate''
to prevent a direct challenge to Defence claims that the release of
intelligence reports written in the lead-up to Indonesia's December
1975 invasion of East Timor would ''prejudice the security, defence or
international relations of Australia''.

The department earlier this year signalled it would oppose an
application by Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Clinton
Fernandes for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to overturn a
decision not to release 41 ''current intelligence reports''.

Defence deputy secretary Peter Jennings told a Senate estimates
committee in June that Dr Fernandes's application for access to the
reports had been determined within the department's ''new culture'' of
openness and that a decision had been taken to withhold the material
from public access on national security grounds.

Defence subsequently submitted to the tribunal two secret affidavits
sworn by the director of the Defence Signals Directorate, Ian
McKenzie, and the deputy director of the Defence Intelligence
Organisation, Stephen McFarlane. Mr McClelland wrote to DrFernandes on
Monday to give notice of his intention to sign a public interest
certificate that would prevent DrFernandes or his legal
representatives from being present when the department's classified
evidence was considered by the tribunal.

A former Australian Army intelligence officer, Dr Fernandes said he
had continuing obligations to maintain the confidentiality of
classified information more recent and much more sensitive than the
1975 reports under review by the tribunal. However despite Dr
Fernandes's offer to enter into specific confidentiality arrangements,
Mr McClelland replied on Thursday that Defence's arguments for
opposing the release of the reports were very sensitive and must be
given the highest level of protection.

Accordingly Dr Fernandes would be denied access to Defence's
classified submissions. The reports are understood to confirm former
Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam's knowledge of Indonesia's
preparations to invade East Timor and cross-border incursions that
included the raid that resulted in the deaths of the five
Australia-based journalists at Balibo.

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