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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tasmanian Freedom of Information expert cracks cabinet code

Rick Snell, one of Australia's leading authorities on Freedom of Information and a law academic at University of Tasmania has had a significant victory in convincing the Tasmanian Ombudsman to require the release of Tasmanian Cabinet agendas for the period 1993-1995.

The full details are online in the Tasmanian Times.

Rick has tested the provision in the Tasmanian FOI Act that provides that a document that comes within the exemption provision regarding cabinet documents loses its status as an exempt document for that reason 10 years after its creation. It would be open to a determining officer to decide that such a document could be exempt because of other provisions, but not to claim exemption on "cabinet document" grounds.

There are similar provisions in NSW, Victorian and Western Australian FOI Acts. They do not apply to documents created before the FOI Acts became law but the 10 year period has just kicked in in Tasmania and is well past in the other states.

Nothing has come into the public domain to suggest that anyone has tested these provisions, or the response of the Premier's Department.

Rick Snell obviously doesn't intend to stop at cabinet agendas - I expect he will follow up on the cabinet submissions themselves.

His proposal for pro active disclosure of 10 year old Tasmanian cabinet documents from here on would be a great step forward in transparency. Perhaps other states will give this consideration or explain why its not a favoured option.

Congratulations on the win Rick and thanks for the lead to the story.

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