28 September marks International Day for Universal Access to Information. Access to information means that everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information. HRA stands strongly behind this right. From our first-hand experience, obtaining information about what actually happens to animals in research can be a difficult and frustrating process. Behind the scenes, the HRA team is constantly seeking to gather information, including submitting questions to Parliament, filing freedom of information (FOI) requests, attending conferences and scanning research papers.
From our perspective, Australia remains behind, making minimal effort towards openness, better communication, greater accountability and more public access to information on animal research. We therefore celebrated a motion passed in Parliament in February calling for increased transparency. However, we have yet to see tangible action as a result.
The FOI Act recognises that the information government holds is a national resource and is managed for public purposes, and that public access to it should be prompt and at the lowest reasonable cost. HRA applies FOI requests to government agencies and universities. Our most common requests focus on gathering information relating to animal use statistics, the operations of animal ethics committees, identifying animal research license holders, details on specific research protocols, details of incident reports or to obtain visual footage.
We have mixed results from these requests, but this is not unique to our subject matter. In 2019, it was reported that a month-long investigation into the operation of FOI laws has identified systemic problems causing vast volumes of government information to be kept secret.
This is not good enough! Without the information, HRA’s ability to inform the public about the realities of animal research is severely compromised. It was through FOI that we were able to reveal the deaths of primates in Australian breeding facilities. We cannot let such information remain hidden.
However, we cannot act alone in addressing the systematic deficits. We are proud to have become a corporate member of Transparency International Australia. Together, we will build more transparent and accountable systems – in government, in the private sector, and across the community, for the benefit of all, not least the victims of animal research.
Listen to the HRA podcast episode on transparency here.
Read more on freedom of information and anti-vivisection advocacy here.