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Sunday, September 17, 2006

FOI in the news

Media reports based on FOI applications over the last week include:

Daily Telegraph 11 September:

“Ticket to ride? No way” – Sydney Cityrail ticket vending machines were faulty or out of order an average 83 times a day last year, annoying commuters and even leaving them at risk of fare evasion fines. Documents s revealed they are often unusable, including at stations with closed booking offices. and

“$10m in bills waived - Tax, fines unpaid” - Taxes and fines worth $10.49 million have been mysteriously waived after personal intervention by NSW Treasurer Michael Costa and his predecessors over the past three years. Among 276 ``act of grace'' orders - which the Treasurer can arrange without explanation - was a bill owed to taxpayers of nearly $1million. NSW Treasury has refused to release any information that might help The Daily Telegraph readers lodge their application.

Sydney Morning Herald 11 September: “Minister bars hospital questions” – This report, and an editorial all suggest that the NSW Government gazetted a regulation imposing a jail term on health department employees if they disclosed information about reportable incidents in the public health system. The claim is that this was done to avoid disclosure of documents to the Opposition under the FOI Act.

Our reading of the regulation is obviously a bit different from the Opposition and the SMH – it doesn’t in our view support the claim, but we haven’t seen the determination of the FOI application so can’t comment further.

Herald Sun 13 September: “Police files clash - Notes kept from former top cop” -The former head of Victoria's elite special operations group has argued in the Civil and Administrative Tribunal for the release of an anonymous letter and diary note about his management style. The Police claim disclosure to the world would divulge sensitive details on the fight against terror.

The Australian 13 September: “Union challenge on privatisation - Central Queensland University misled staff in its English Language Centre about plans to outsource the centre to a private operator, the academics' union said yesterday. The National Tertiary Education Union said documents it had obtained under freedom of information rules revealed the university decided in March to privatise the centre, contrary to what the university told the union.

Adelaide Advertiser 14 September : “MPs' cars clock up fines "South Australian politicians' taxpayer-funded cars have been detected speeding 34 times over the past two years but the Government has refused to reveal which MPs are responsible.
The Advertiser can reveal the number of speeding offences only after successfully appealing an Administrative and Information Services decision to block the release of any details, which had been requested under Freedom of Information laws.

Sydney Morning Herald 15 September: “Pubs defy smoking crackdown” - Hotels are openly flouting the NSW Government's partial smoking bans, with no prosecutions yet pursued despite more than 400 complaints. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also show hotel lobby tried to have smoking bans pushed back until 2009 and a one-year "period of grace" allowed before fines were imposed.

The Australian 15 September: “Uni head buckled to bank demands” – Documents disclose correspondence to the University of Sydney from Macquarie Bank seeking to limit the impact of criticism of the Bank’s road projects in a research project undertaken by John Goldberg.

The Australian 16 September: “Baby bonus boosts birthrate in a year” -The Federal Government's $4000 maternity payment has helped to accelerate the nation's birthrate with more than 10,000 extra babies born in the past year. Centrelink data on the number of parents claiming the $4000 baby bonus, reveals that the birthrate is rising at a much faster rate than previously thought.

Daily Telegraph 16 September: “Iemma invites NSW to kick him” – A report on online responses on how citizens rate Premier Morris Iemma reveals more than half of respondents telling him he had done ``nothing'' to fix the state.

Sydney Morning Herald 16 September: In his weekly “What they won’t tell you “ column, FOI Editor Matthew Moore in “Animal crackers” reports on parts of documents on public admissions to Taronga Park Zoo deleted from documents released under the FOI Act. In a related story “Is Taronga an endangered species?” he discusses impending competition between Taronga Park and a new commercial zoo at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

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