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Monday, January 19, 2009

Senate Committee not deluged by submissions on FOI.

Only four submissions have been received to date (the deadline was 7 January) by the Senate Committee on Public Finance and Administration in connection with its examination of the Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Bill 2008. Holidays and all that, and the general feeling that abolishing conclusive certificates is so self-evidently sensible there isn't much to be said probably explain this low level of interest or concern.

Unsurprisingly, Australia's Right to Know (PDF 111KB) and the Australian Press Council (PDF 249KB) want more reform than the Government is proposing. ARTK suggests a public interest override power for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The APC is critical of the blanket exemption for documents received by a minister from specified security agencies and wants more wholesale changes to the exemption provisions generally, and changes to fees.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PDF 202KB) also questions the lack of any harm test for the exemption of documents received by a minister from security agencies (Haneef a case in point) and why the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security should be required to give evidence in the AAT before any finding that disclosure of a document would not harm international relations:
"While the Inspector-General.. may be qualified to provide expert and
independent evidence in respect of national security or defence documents, PIAC is not convinced that the Inspector-General .. is qualified to give evidence in answer to
questions of whether disclosure would affect international relations, nor with general questions of confidentiality."
The Federal Privacy Commissioner (PDF 43KB) sees a small privacy issue but is prepared to overlook it.

(If you have trouble opening the pdf files-as I did initially- try accessing them through the Senate Committee link referred to above.)

I doubt if the Government will be much interested in going any further at the moment than what is proposed in the bill (more's the pity). The points made in the submissions are mostly reasonable, but roll on the bigger reform picture- at least the discussion paper "as soon as practicable in 2009", promised by Minister Faulkner.

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