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Friday, May 02, 2008

Business as usual in Canberra

Meanwhile back in Canberra, things continue as they have for the last 25 years- Treasury knocks back a Freedom of Information application by the ABC for documents about the inflationary impact of the Government's industrial relations policy on the grounds that
"The full release of these documents would disclose cabinet decision-making processes and, as such, the public interest considerations against their release outweigh any public benefits resulting from their disclosure," a Treasury official says in the response to the ABC."I believe the full disclosure of these documents would be contrary to public interest as they are internal documents containing information which could raise unnecessary debate on matters considered by cabinet."
It sounds like the "Fisse defence" referred to here recently-they aren't documents covered by the cabinet exemption but as they provide advice on matters later considered in cabinet, there are arguments put forward that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

A spokesman from the Treasurer's Office said "(t)here are now many decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that have concluded that FOI-exempted material would 'cause unnecessary debate and confusion". Government does need some confidential "thinking space", but what amounts to policy research should not subsequently remain locked up for 30 years for reasons such as this.

Tip for ministers when you hear this sort of stuff from advisers: as there are precedents for refusing access for reasons that make most of us weep, remember that your policy starts with a commitment to drive a pro disclosure policy across government, and you want greater public participation and more open and accountable government.

Maybe the Government just hasn't got far with the detail. A spokesman for Senator Faulkner is quoted here as saying work was "well under way" on both the whistleblower legislation and reforms to the FOI act. But he could not indicate when changes were expected to be announced.

We live in hope, still.

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