Shhhhhhh!!!!!

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The very word ‘secrecy‘ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.

John F. Kennedy

I absolutely love this quote. I especially love it because it is coming from a politician held in such  esteem as J F Kennedy. Old J F may have had his faults, who doesn’t, but what he said here is right on the ball.

I have worked in the Disability Sector and Deaf Sector for coming up 25 years. The fact that a lot of what we do is shrouded in secrecy has always been a cause of much frustration to me. Now there are times when secrecy is needed. For example when you are negotiating a contract and there are competing interests. It would not be fair to announce how much one person is bidding over another. BUT – for the most part secrecy is the cause of more problems than it is worth.

I am going to write very briefly here about the 262. I will tell you that secrecy and the lack of open communication with the South Australian Deaf community about what is going on with the sale of 262 is the cause of much friction. At the very least the South Australian Deaf community and its representatives needed to be kept fully up to date with anything that is related to 262 and its sale. Secrecy is largely what has led to a breakdown in the relationship between Townsend House and the Deaf community.

Nine times out of ten underhand secret behaviour that is excused with statements such as “commercial and in confidence” will come back to bite you on the bum. And so it was with Townsend House and their lack of openness with the Deaf community. What happened? Well someone left a flyer hanging around that divulged the interest of Healing Life Ministries to buy 262. By perchance a Deaf community member came across the flyer. It later turned out that negotiations had been going on for quite some time. Once the Deaf community found out that they had been kept in the dark, any chance of repairing the relationship between Townsend House and the Deaf community was probably gone forever. Secrecy will do that.

One of the silliest cases of secrecy I can remember involved something as simple as engraving information on a medal. This happened at the Australian Deaf Games. One of the Deaf community members, who was organising a sport at the Games, found out that medals were being organised but nothing was to be engraved on them. I was part of the decision that endorsed that. The argument was that engraving would be an additional cost that was not needed. It was a way of keeping cost to a minimum.

Anyway the Deaf community member in question thought engraving what the event was and some other relevant information would add value and sentiment when winning a medal, which is fair enough. He wanted to know what the cost differential was between engraving and not engraving . To my mind it was a really simple request. If you are going to make a decision you own it and explain it. If people don’t like your reasoning you at least can say that you were open and honest and move on. But in this case the Deaf community member was basically told to mind his own business – the official response? Well such information about the pricing of the medals was, “commercial and in confidence.”

Now I am a lone voice on the committee here. I believe that such a response served no purpose except to create mistrust. It made us organisers look like a “secret society” . Really the Deaf community member had a right to know. After all he was volunteering his time to organise his sport and coughing up good money to participate.

The problem with secrecy, particularly at a political level, is that it is abused. Certainly secrecy has a place. For example, if you out individuals who have expressed certain views in the process of making decisions there is a danger that they can be abused and ostracised. In such cases one needs to be discreet. Such dangers can be avoided if people stick to the issues. Decisions are made mostly with the best of intentions. If you have done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide.

A good example unnecessary secrecy is where Deaf Sports Australia chose Geelong over Wodonga as the host city for the last Australian Deaf Games. Wodonga was chosen by the selection committee after an exhaustive process which involved consultation with Deaf sports representatives. I was a member of the host city selection panel.

The Deaf Sports Australia Board took the view that holding the Games at Wodonga had some inherent risks. They felt it was more prudent to host the games at Geelong. It is absolutely the Deaf Sports Australia Board’s right to do that. As Directors they are the people liable for any losses. Personally I felt that the risks were minimal and that there were several tangible benefits in holding the Games at Wodonga. The Board thought otherwise. I respect that.

What I do not respect is that the reasons for choosing Geelong, and the fact that Wodonga was the preferred choice of the selection committee, were not made public. I believe that if Deaf Sports Australia had divulged what had happened behind closed doors and their reasoning for their decision they would have garnered immense respect. I know many will disagree with me but I think ownership and transparency of decision-making is a much undervalued trait.

People who are following the CaptiView saga will note that there is a posting at the Action on Cinema Access Facebook page. The posting is a copy of the original letter sent out by Bill Shorten to our cinema access representatives. The letter was sent soon after the Accessible Cinema Advisory Group was formed by the Government to guide the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out. This was in 2010.

What the letter clearly states is that decisions regarding the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out needed to be guided with clear input from consumers. In the letter, that is signed by Bill Shorten, it says,  “.. given the emerging nature of platforms such as ‘Captiview’, implementation will require ongoing consumer input to establish acceptability” This last quote, to me anyway, seems to be clearly saying that any technology that is introduced needs to have a clear endorsement of the consumer. Arguably CaptiView has never received that.

Indeed said one advocate, who has been heavily involved in the captioning lobby for many years, “ .. shame we weren’t given access to this earlier in the process.”  I absolutely agree because this letter could have been the deal breaker. But for whatever reason it was kept secret. The rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps we need to heed the advice of Elia Kazan who said,

Whatever hysteria exists is inflamed by mystery, suspicion and secrecy. Hard and exact facts will cool it.

Townsend House, in particular, should take note.

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