Readers back Your Right to Know campaign
Australians are frustrated with the culture of secrecy in Australian government ranks and, given the chance, would release information that officials had actively tried to keep from the public.
The findings, from a News Corp Australia poll of 1100 readers, found up to 95 per cent wanted greater access to information after they voted on six real-world instances of press censorship.
The results echoed comments from Freedom of Information expert Peter Timmins, who said the Australian government was failing to respect laws designed to deliver open, transparent government and keep the public informed.
The poll, launched as part of the Your Right to Know campaign that began last week, asked readers to vote on six examples in which the Australian government actively tried to prevent the public from seeing vital information.
In the case of violence in aged care homes, for example, where more than 4000 residents were assaulted yearly, 95 per cent of readers said they would allow publication of the alarming statistics.
Just 56 readers (4.84 per cent) agreed with the government's stance to keep the matter secret.
Asked if they would threaten a whistleblower from the Australian Taxation Office with life in prison to prevent exposing information about heavy-handed debt collection tactics, readers also strongly disagreed with the government's stance, with 93 per cent voting against the threats.
Most readers (74 per cent) also voted against instructing the Australian Federal Police to find a journalist's source who revealed submarine construction was several years behind schedule, and even more (87 per cent) would choose not to block the identification of buildings using flammable cladding, as the government has done.
Mr Timmins, a lawyer and consultant, said decisions to keep vital information from the public were clearly against current Freedom of Information laws and resulted from a lack of government leadership on the issue and a secretive culture.
"We've always struggled with implementing the spirit of the Freedom of Information legislation, in essence that people have a right to know," he said.
"We're now 37 years on since the introduction of the Commonwealth FOI Act and the culture has never been addressed satisfactorily."
He said there were indications that senior members of the public service were "very uncomfortable with the concept (of FOI)" and felt pressured not to release documents even though they were legally able to do so.
Other examples of government secrecy put to participants included the case of a journalist who quizzed the Foreign Investment Review Board about the sale of vast tracts of agricultural land to a Canadian company. Almost 90 per cent of readers said they would not block release of the information, and just 10 per cent sided with the government that it was "not in the public interest".
Most respondents (81 per cent) said they would also release the Wastewater Report that showed regional capitals in Australia were being torn apart by an "alarming" rise in the use of MDMA and ice.
The Right to Know campaign, backed by some of the country's biggest media companies including the ABC, Nine and SBS, is asking for six legal reforms to combat government secrecy, protect the public's access to information, and enshrine protections for journalists and whistleblowers.