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Sunday, February 05, 2006

High Court to hear FOI Case

The High Court has granted The Australian the right to appeal a Federal Court decision regarding the validity of a conclusive certificate issued by the Treasurer which prevented access to documents on income tax and the first home buyers scheme. The FOI request was made three years ago by The Austalian's FOI editor Michael McKinnon. The issue to be argued in the High Court is about the public interest grounds on which the certificate is based.

The Commonwealth FOI regime provides more scope than any other FOI Act in Australia for the issuance of a certificate which is conclusive evidence that a document is an exempt document. However the certificate must be based on a claim that the public interest requires that the document not be disclosed. In the Commonwealth, ministers and departmental heads have authority to issue a certificate.

Under the NSW Act only the Premier has authority to issue a certificate and then only in respect of three of the twenty six exemption provisions in the Act.

There has been strong media support, including some financial assistance, for The Australian's challenge.

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