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Monday, May 15, 2006

Over zealous concern about confidentiality

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald story “Top secret – the taxpayer – funded games that are none of our business” highlights an amendment to the FOI Act that was passed by Parliament in June last year to provide a special exemption for information held by the NSW statutory authority, the World Masters Games Organising Committee.

Our Open and Shut Newsletter included the following comment at the time:
"… one has explained why it is necessary to provide that any document prepared by or received by the Organising Committee that contains matter that the IMGA regards as confidential should be exempt from the FOI Act. The exemption means that the IMGA like the International Olympic Committee in the years leading up to the Olympic Games in 2000 has an uncontested right to assert that matter is confidential and that will render a document held by a government agency exempt under Clause 22A. There is no public interest or other test.

According to its website the IMGA is a non profit corporation subject to the laws of Switzerland but based in Denmark. Switzerland, the home of secret bank accounts and the International Olympics Committee may be starting to emerge into the modern world of increased transparency. The IMGA is probably a fine body doing great things. However why an exemption to the FOIA should empower them to virtually decide the exempt status of a document held by a NSW Government agency is difficult to understand. The Organising Committee will also have all the other exemptions available. The existing confidentiality and business affairs exemptions would seem likely to cover any information that deserves protection. Those exemptions require something more than simply an assertion that information from the IMGA is “confidential”.

....NSW has chosen to create a government agency to organise the Games. It should be subject to the same accountability requirements as any other government agency".

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