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Jubilee Statements

Monitoring the impacts of government and corporate behaviour in communities overseas.

We have a right to know

Release Date: 31-Dec-2007

Kevin Rudd has promised to make government more transparent and accountable. This is a change Jubilee Australia has been strongly calling for.

When it comes to Australian loans to poor countries, there is a dangerous level of secrecy.

During Suharto’s 31 year military dictatorship in Indonesia, our government, primarily through EFIC direct loans, extended over $1 billion in finance to the regime.

Today, Indonesia’s debt bill to Australia stands at $1.18 billion. This foreign debt isn’t being repaid by Suharto and his cronies who pocketed most of it. It is being repaid by the current citizens of Indonesia.

In October this year, Australia’s Right to Know released an audit prepared by Irene Moss, a former NSW ombudsman, which states: “Many of the mechanisms that are so vital to a well-functioning democracy are beginning to wear thin” and that “...[there are many] areas of general access to information where governments should be more open and accountable.”1

Australia’s export credit agency is EFIC (Export Finance and Insurance Corporation). EFIC supports domestic businesses entering the ‘risky’ markets of the developing world. By lending money to poor countries EFIC enables them to buy the goods and services of Australian exporters. This process is the main way poor countries are today generating massive foreign debts.

To get to the bottom of this, the government would either need to agree to undertake a parliamentary audit of their loan portfolio, or open for public scrutiny the details of loan contracts. Yet neither is on the cards. All dealings of EFIC, even those undertaken in the ‘national interest’ account, are protected by ‘commercial in confidence’ and exempt from Freedom of Information legislation.

As alluded to in Australia’s Right to Know, it is alarming that there is no clear requirement to weigh public interest considerations against the protection of business interests within Australian Freedom of Information legislation.2 Effectively, the FoI exemptions override the Australian people’s right to know how our government is spending our taxes, and in this case, what sort of deals our money is financing in developing countries.

Since Suharto’s fall, civil society movements in Indonesia have been reasserting their rights, limiting the power of the army and restoring some democratic freedoms. But they are hampered by this huge and unpayable debt.