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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

FOI reform - promises, promises

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley in the Annual Don Dunstan oration in Adelaide this week, outlined Labor’s plans for public service reform, including some specific commitments on Freedom of Information.

Beazley commited Labor to openness and transparency. He said Labor would abolish conclusive certificates that give ministers and the Head of the Prime Minister’s Department powers to certify the exempt status of documents and ensure that government information is made available unless its release would cause public harm or hinder national or personal security.

The speech included plenty of other commitments including limitations on ministers taking private sector jobs on leaving politics, and overturning the Government’s $10,000 ceiling for undisclosed contributions to political parties.

Let’s hope they can hold the line should they get up in the election next year.


  1. Peter Bennett9:07 pm

    I have prosecuted about 8 FOI matters in the AAT. About 5 were relatively successful, though most were successful for the documents that were provided before the hearings than were obtained through the AAT.

    The Federal Agencies completely ignore the FOI Memorandum though they are effectively a direction from the Attorney General. The legal professional privilege is misused repeatedly. The (FOI Act, s9) obligation to disclose documents which are used or may be used by officers in their decision making processes are effectively ignored (except for decisions which protect the interests of the agencies).

    The AAT is being cornered by decisions/precedents which favour agencies simply because individuals cannot afford to take an appeal to the Federal Court.

    I did take an appeal to the Federal Court and then the Full Bench of the Federal Court and after winning, the exercise cost me about $9000 after costs were awarded to me.

    The problem is now to overturn the decisions of the AAT which will protect agencies from proper democratic disclosure.
    Peter Bennett

  2. A real gulf has developed between the incredibly conservative approach in Federal FOI decisions in the AAT, and as demonstrated in the recent majority opinion of the High Court in the McKinnon case, and the much more progressive approach by the NSW ADT and the NSW Court of Appeal in the Law Society v WorkCover case.
    There are still many battles to be fought in the interests of open government. Unfortunately large cost constraints are a significant problem for those who contest FOI determinations.