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Friday, May 09, 2008

PM says future begins as soon as practically possible

Whether this represents an advance on "we'll introduce Freedom of Information law reform by the end of the year" remains to be seen, but the Prime Minister in speaking at an event at Fairfax Media yesterday, again made it clear change is on the way as soon as practicable.

In addition to the oft repeated commitments to promoting a pro disclosure culture, abolishing conclusive certificates and establishing an information commissioner, the PM said fees would be reviewed "to ensure they are compatible with a culture of disclosure and transparency". And more: "Labor is committed to ... implementing each and every one of the commitments we made in response to the Right to Know Coalition."

Good on Fairfax chief executive David Kirk for reminding the PM of last week's events including the police raid on the Sunday Times in Perth and of the arcane views in his Treasury department about the public interest:
"the Treasury denied a freedom-of-information request because they feared that it might spur too much debate on an important issue of the day. Since when, in a democracy, do we fear too much debate? These are retrograde - indeed, they are dangerous - steps, and are unworthy of our democracy."

The PM appears to have dismissed this as "the inevitable argy bargy between governments and the press ... There will always be argy bargy over this document and that document."

Well yes, but getting rid of hoary old chestnuts like this as a reason for refusing access is a matter of the law and government policy- something the PM's reforms should be addressing right now.

Meanwhile back in Canberra The Australian reports the Immigration Department has refused an application under the FOI Act by Dr Haneef's lawyers for documents relating to their client because disclosure "may jeopardise future investigations and discourage bureaucrats from giving frank advice to ministers". Maybe the first reason cuts some ice but the second is another of those chestnuts Mr Rudd and his ministers need to toss on the fire.

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