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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Senator Faulkner beefs up 'FOI expertise'

Some good news.

In reporting on appointments to ministers' offices in Canberra, The Australian Financial Review yesterday said Kate Harrison had been appointed Chief of Staff to Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner.

Harrison is a partner with the law firm Gilbert+Tobin. Apart from being a "leading intellectual property lawyer" Harrison has had a long association with Freedom of Information matters, including the publication of a 'how to' guide on using the Commonwealth Act (Documents, Dossiers, and the Inside Dope - for those public servants scrambling for a copy, I think it's now out of print). Harrison was a founding director of the Communications Law Centre at the University of NSW.

She has kept up with FOI, including recently acting on behalf of prominent competition lawyer Brent Fisse in seeking access to a four year old report of a working party chaired by the Federal Treasury on the details of planned criminal offence provisions for cartel behaviour.

The Treasury refused access to most of the report and the matter is now awaiting hearing in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Treasury claims that the document is exempt as a Cabinet document and as an internal working document include old gems such as 'disclosure would inhibit frank and objective contribution to working party discussion in future', and that disclosure 'may lead to speculation about possible future reforms which are not government policy'. I'm not sure what's happened with the case (if anything) in the last few weeks but the new Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen, has been happily telling the world that the government intends to act to criminalise cartel conduct.

Harrison will be well equipped to help Senator Faulkner sort wheat from chaff as the Government (hopefully) moves forward with FOI reform.

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