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Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixed signals for FOI from Canberra

Have we seen any real or substantive change in the freedom of information stakes in the nine months since the election of the Rudd Government? Its hard to say as we never hear anything in the public domain about most applications and responses. We know the law so far has remained untouched by the new government, and the guidelines issued to public servants on how it is to be interpreted and applied are those issued under the previous government which the Prime Minister and his colleagues criticised for excessive secrecy. All we have to go on are media or other reports of what is going on.

There have been the occassional positive straw in the wind- for example this sounds an unusual but welcome decision by the Treasury, although reports of what was released or denied don't give the complete picture:
"Documents released to Channel Seven under Freedom of Information requests revealed that, before the budget, Cabinet ministers were provided with more than 83 pages of documents from Treasury and the Department of Family and Community Services, outlining options for increasing the amount or extent of payments to aged pensioners."
But then this from the Canberra Times today quoting The Greens Senator Milne to the effect that it's the same old, same old, when it comes to access to documents about ongoing matters of public controversy. The following comment from the Minister Senator Faulkner which seems to endorse without any qualification resort to the many justifications availed of by the previous government to refuse access, is a far cry from the pre-election promise that things under Labor would be different:
Senator Faulkner said last month the decision to block documents was not taken lightly as the Government endorsed the open and transparent functioning of Parliament.''We come to this position on the basis of extensive precedent, including precedent from the previous government ...'' he said.

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