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Sunday, July 09, 2006

FOI in the news

Media reports based on documents sought under FOI over the last week include:

Sydney Morning Herald 3 July: “A city toll we’d be willing to live with” - Sydney residents would accept a congestion tax in the central business district if they thought it would allow them to reclaim the city from cars, secret research by the Roads and Traffic Authority has found. The 117-page report, code-named "Project London", reveals since 2000 the RTA has found some enthusiasm for congestion tolling, similar to a system used in London. The City of London levies a tax of £8 ($20) a day on every vehicle entering the CBD.

Anger over cheap-as-chips native timber exports” - Native timber from south-east NSW's forests is being sold by the State Government for well below market prices to Japanese woodchippers when there is enough Australian plantation timber for chip exports, anti-logging activists say. The Greens MP Lee Rhiannon also accused the Government of covering up how its plantations division allegedly subsidises its native forests division, after Forests NSW refused a freedom-of-information application for the unit price per tonne at which the native timber was sold.

ABC regional news 3 July: “Green group uses FOI to get ruby drilling” A conservation group from the Barrington Tops has used freedom of information (FOI) to uncover details of mining company Cluff Resources' plan to do exploratory drilling for rubies in the area. The chairman of the Save Barrington Tops group requested the information almost two years ago and has only just got her hands on it.

Herald Sun 4 July: “Secret terrorism plan - Experts ready to cope with attack”– a specialist response team of defence, security, police and counselling staff has been established under a confidential Federal Government initiative to respond to mass-casualty attacks against Australians overseas. Hostage recovery elements and experts able to respond to nuclear or biological attacks against Australians have also been worked into the plans.

Canberra Times 4 July: “By all accounts, a government that can” –an opinion piece by Jack Waterford a pioneering user of FOI in Australia includes the following comment - "FOI legislation has been rendered so complicated and expensive - and so subject to novel and arbitrary exclusions, such as the need to protect a minister from possible embarrassment - that it now plays almost no role in the accountability system. This could change as a result of a matter before the High Court, but, given the Government's (and the Attorney-General's) devotion to administrative law, most cynics expect that any inconvenient judicial decision will be overridden by a tame parliament and by fresh administrative obstructionism".

Herald Sun 5 July:
Privacy hazards remain" - an independent investigation into a government department's role in the biggest breach of privacy in the state's history has uncovered serious security concerns. Documents obtained by the Herald Sun reveal that the Department of Justice has been warned sensitive and confidential information is being inappropriately handled and in danger of being leaked again.

“Asher bully claim” - The Bracks Government bullied the Deputy Opposition Leader to stop her inquiring about the misuse of taxpayers' money. Ms Asher said she had been told that if she appealed a decision to refuse access to documents concerning the payment of compensation to the Vodafone Arena during the Commonwealth Games she could be the subject of a cost order against her.

Canberra Times 5 July: “Snow wants inquiry into “illegal sale” – and 6 July: “Secret hearing on land sale “unbelievable” – two follow up reports concerning the sale of a $39million development site at Fyshwick.

The Mercury 5 July: “Negotiator on $2500-a-day” - THE Tasmanian Government paid the boss of the Australian Rail Track Corporation David Marchant $2500 a day to help it negotiate a $128 million rail rescue package. Total cost was estimated at $82,500 with another $200,000 to cover costs of services from other ARTC executives.

The Advertiser 7 July: “ Threat to tram “with change of council” South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister insisted warnings in a report from officials about risks to the planned tramway extension in Adelaide in the event of a change in Adelaide council composition at the election had "nothing whatsoever" to do with the Government's decision to extend the council's term.

Sydney Morning Herald 8 July: In his weekly “What they won’t tell you” column “No interest in names of dodgy eateries” – FOI Editor Matthew Moore provides an update on his attempt to obtain details of city restaurants that have been fined for non compliance with food standards. City of Sydney Council has now provided a list of those fined with names deleted. Moore contrasts this approach with the ready availability of these sort of details in major world centres such as London, New York and Vancouver. Some of the responses on the blog are interesting - in North Carolina there's a TV news program about the worst offenders.

The Age July 9: “Revealed: how AWB beat Iraq probe" - Eighteen months after the invasion of Iraq, high-ranking Australian diplomats in Washington colluded with an AWB "damage control" team to shield the wheat exporter's actions from a potentially damaging US Senate investigation. Documents reveal for the first time the extent of the extraordinary co-operation between the Howard Government and AWB during 2004 as they worked to defuse the US Senate's probe into corruption of the United Nations Food for Oil Program.

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