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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Much to like in Queensland review report

The Solomon Review is impressive and comprehensive, and contains important new ideas about how to deliver on the objective that underpins all our freedom of information acts- extending as far as possible the rights of the public to access government information. It's not possible to do justice to the 141 recommendations in this brief comment. Overall this is good positive stuff, not just for Queensland but for consideration elsewhere should government leaders show interest in reform.

The report recommends fundamental change to the framework, with a government wide information policy that recognises information as a core strategic but public asset, the adoption of a "push" model of pro active disclosure, a simplified right to information act with greater clarity about grounds for refusal of access, and an information commissioner to provide strong and continuing leadership and guidance across the public service on implementation of the scheme. The UK can take a bow on showing what can be done along these lines.

The Premier's reaction was positive: she said she felt "very comfortable'' with the reforms, including changes to the cabinet exemptions, and gave a strong indication that all or nearly all of the recommendations would be implemented. "It's not my intention to pick the eyes out of this and to put minor amendments to the existing Act,'' she said. "The legislative framework, in my view ... has to be adopted in its entirety."

A few minor quibbles from me: 25 working days for a determination of an FOI application seems excessive in the "google" age, and the recommendation against a public interest rebate on fees is hard to justify. And a bit of a worry how long all this might take given the scope of the report and the possibility of a degree of indigestion as government examines the recommendations

The Premier says draft legislation will be out for public comment later in the year and will be introduced in 2009. It would be great to see an administrative direction from her in the meantime that agencies are to err on the side of disclosure unless real harm to essential public interests are likely from disclosure.

Given the timeframe, and the breadth of issues covered in the report, the three person panel supported by two staff have done a remarkable job

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