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Thursday, October 19, 2006

NSW FOI: plenty of room for improvement

The Public Forum at NSW Parliament House on 11 October about FOI and why it isn't working attracted about 100 people. There were many there who have had unsatisfactory FOI experiences, several of which were picked up in this report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

My speaking notes are attached. Other speakers were Wendy Bacon and Dr. Ann Smith of Save Barrington Tops Group.

In essence while the NSW FOI Act isn't the worst or the worst administered in the land, the case for review is very strong and reform is long overdue. The Greens have introduced a Bill into the Legislative Council that would require independent review of the Act. In my view a good act is essential, but insufficient to achieve open government objectives. Leadership, support and resources are among the other essential ingredients.

In 2006, a government committed to extending as far as possible the rights of the public to access government information (the objects set out in the FOI Act in 1988) would start with a commitment to proactive disclosure of a wide range of information concerning the conduct of public functions, and position FOI as the last resort mechanism for access to information not otherwise available.

Access to government information continues to be an important accountability issue but in this day and age, access to such information to enable use and reuse to promote social and economic advancement, should also be recognised in our right to information law.

I made a couple of references to what is happening overseas:

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