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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Still waiting for promised review of NSW secrecy laws

The Federal Attorney General's decision to have the Australian Law Reform Commission take another look at secrecy provisions in laws, and related issues, serves as a reminder that in NSW there has never been a similar review, despite an undertaking at the time the Freedom of Information Act was passed 20 years ago

This is what was said by the minister managing the matter in Parliament during debate on Clause 12 0f Schedule 1 of the Bill,which exempts a document where disclosure would constitute an offence against another act:
"The Premier has indicated that consideration will be given to reviewing the secrecy provisions of the individual legislation. We will do that. Legislation will be assessed to ascertain whether it is appropriate to remove secrecy provisions from specific Acts, rather than have a freedom of information bill which would eliminate all secrecy in one fell swoop." (Legislative Council, Parliamentary Debates (8 December 1988) 4687).
The relationship between the Freedom of Information Act and other legislation that prohibits disclosure of information, absolutely or subject to qualifications, is an ongoing problem in the administration of the Act. This is what the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Appeal Panel,chaired by the President Judge O'Connor said in a decision in March 2007:
"(T)he Government of the day in 1988 promised the Parliament and the community of New South Wales that the secrecy provisions exemption would be reviewed. The Premier of the day committed the Government to ensuring that all legislation containing secrecy provisions would be assessed to ascertain whether it is appropriate to remove secrecy provisions from specific Acts. The Premier of that time failed to implement the promise, and no action has been taken since.

We repeat the concern previously expressed that active reliance by agencies on secrecy provisions in their statutes could mean that the FOI Act will cease to have any application to many parts of the New South Wales public service thus undermining the very purpose of that legislation. Secrecy provisions are a commonplace of agency statutes in New South Wales. The result is an unsatisfactory one".[40-41]
There has been no visible sign of a Government response in the 18 months since.

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