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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Canberra should find new Queensland thinking of interest

This ABC News report"Pressure for Qld FOI changes to go national"includes comments by Rick Snell and me on the AM program this morning:

"University of Tasmania senior law lecturer Rick Snell says if implemented the changes will fundamentally transform the state from defaulting towards secrecy to virtually always defaulting towards openness. Mr Snell says the Solomon report, if adopted, will benefit the Government, public service, the media and the public."It will move Queensland to the forefront of freedom of information legislation in Australia and it will also move to the forefront of freedom of information within the world because these proposals give a blueprint on how to move Freedom of Information into the next generation," he said.

One of the key recommendations is changing the public interest test to ensure that information is released unless its disclosure is deemed to be contrary to the public interest. Mr Snell says it's a major shift. "What this proposal does is actually put it up front and says there is a basic public interest in releasing information unless there is a very good reason not to," he said.

FOI activist Peter Timmins has also welcomed the report, saying it represents healthy new thinking. "It takes freedom of information out of a sort of legal battle and very clearly advocates the idea that government should have a policy of openness and transparency," he said. "And I think its recommendations would illustrate, if they're picked up, how that sort of system could work more effectively than what we've had so far."

Mr Timmins says the Queensland example should be embraced by the Federal Government, which is also reviewing its FOI laws. "There is an important message here for the Federal Government which really before the election said it would act on freedom of information and six months on hasn't," he said. "I think they could take a leaf out of Dr Solomon's book and give very close consideration to many of these recommendations."

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