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Monday, May 22, 2006

FOI: the law that governments flout

Today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald “The law that governments flout”, says that Australia’s Freedom of Information Act is in urgent need of repair. In again noting the importance of the current McKinnon High Court case the editorial says:
“the fact that (McKinnon) has been fighting to see the documents for almost 4 years highlights one of the many failures of the Act namely its inability to have such applications dealt with promptly. To delay resolving requests for months or years is one way the aims of the Act are routinely subverted by bureaucrats serving political masters determined to avoid complying with the spirit of the legislation. When documents are released, it is often long after decisions are made and too late to inform public opinion at the critical time”.
This failure is not limited to the Federal Government. Long delays occur before contentious FOI matters are resolved in the NSW ADT. Even when decisions are made some government agencies continue to challenge to the Appeal Panel on minor points, again delaying disclosure.

The State Political reporter for the Herald Anne Davies has a column today “Grand plans need dollars and details” about the NSW Government's failure to publish an infrastructure plan. She quotes senior NSW Treasury executive Kerry Schott’s answer to a question about this at a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia lunch: “We don’t put it out because it would raise expectations and it doesn’t give the Government the opportunity to change their mind”.

Davies comments that there "was a gasp at this candour" and continues:
“Fear of being held accountable to a plan is one of the reasons the Carr-Iemma Government seems to be allergic to long term planning”.
If anyone sought the plan under FOI, there would no doubt be close consideration of the internal working document exemption. In the light of Ms Schott's public comment, it would be interesting to see how "raising expectations", and the government not having the opportunity to change its mind translated into public interest considerations against disclosure.

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