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Friday, March 30, 2007

FOI knockback "creative" at best, "dodgy" at worst

Matthew Moore in his column on Thursday "What they won't tell you" was right in saying that a knock back on access to the results of surveys of public responses to the Federal Government's WorkChoice advertisements, was "creative". The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations deferred access to the documents until after they have been submitted to the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications ("sometime in late 2007").

That's creative use of a provision in the Federal Freedom of Information Act that enables an agency to defer giving access to a document prepared for presentation to Parliament or "for the purpose of being made available to a particular person or body, or with the intention that it should be so made available".

It's particularly creative in the light of the comment by the Minister's adviser, reported in Moore's article, that surveys of this kind are never submitted to the Committee.

Some of the state FOI acts (NSW for example) limit deferral of access to circumstances where a document has been prepared for submission to a particular person or body, but is yet to be submitted.

Update: in response to a question about this issue in the Senate yesterday, the Manager of Government Business, Senator Abetz said that while the response to the FOI application was a matter for the Department, what had been done was consistent with the "general policy adopted by all governments of all persuasions......that while a communication campaign is still active no campaign material, including strategy documents and research findings, are released publicly". He added that the FOI applicant hadn't appealed the decision, "undoubtedly (because) he fully understands the reason why and he had no ground to appeal".

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