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Sunday, September 10, 2006

FOI in the news

The major media FOI story of the week has been the reporting of the High Court decision in McKinnon v Secretary of the Treasury. Our earlier blogs have highlighted some reports. There have been many others. Papers across Australia reported the decision, and many opinion pieces and editorials commented that it was a major setback to open government.

One of the follow on pieces in yesterday’s Weekend Australian - "NZ says our FOI law arcane" says that having been unsuccessful in a four year battle to obtain information from the Australian Treasury about bracket creep, the newspaper was able to obtain information from New Zealand Treasury on the same topic within 24 hours. This claim might be a bit specious – the requests were different in form – but it sure isn’t a good look when New Zealanders show us up as excessively secretive, technical and profligate in using public money to protect this sort of stuff from public disclosure.

In his weekly Sydney Morning Herald "What they won't tell you" column FOI Editor Matthew Moore in "New ways to say no" says that the comments by Justices Heydon and Callinan in the High Court decision, have breathed new life into tired old notions about the need to protect public service advice from disclosure on public interest grounds.

Media reports based on other FOI applications over the past week also included:

The Advertiser 2 September: “Teacher wanted to bomb office
A school teacher who wanted to bomb the head office of the South Australian Education Department and gun down teachers at the school where he worked has been counselled over his threats.

Sunday Telegraph 3 September: “Bridges in trouble - Two-thirds `unsatisfactory' - Nearly two-thirds of the road bridges in NSW have failed Roads and Traffic Authority inspections in the past year.

Sunday Mail 3 September: “$120,000 on Foley's US talks” South Australian taxpayers forked out $120,000 for Treasurer Kevin Foley and an entourage of four to travel to the US for high-level defence talks.

Sunday Age 3 September: “It's the Traminators - No ticket? Throw them to the floor, inspector . . . roughly”- Victorian public transport ticket inspectors are being taught how to fight and arrest unruly passengers and put "body holds" on fleeing fare evaders.

The Daily Telegraph 7 September: “All aboard for injury - Commuters dice with danger on a daily basis” - The number of NSW commuters injured getting on and off carriages has risen alarmingly, with a 300 per cent increase in people caught in train doors in just three years.

The Age 8 September: “Government withholds major projects information – countdown to the poll - November 25” - In Victoria the Government has mounted a Supreme Court challenge to stop sensitive documents on its troubled major projects from being released before the state election. The challenge is to a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision that the documents were not Cabinet documents or otherwise exempt.

The Melbourne Sun 8 September: “File peeks `private' - Police reject plea from prison whistleblower” - Police have refused to tell a prison whistleblower the names of all police officers who looked at his secret police file because it could invade their privacy. Victoria Police refused to release the details under freedom of information because it related to the "personal affairs'' of the officers.

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