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Friday, January 09, 2009

Tasmanian FOI issues identified?

The Tasmanian review of the Freedom of Information Act proceeds, with the publication of the Issues Identification Forum Report on the Forum organised by the Department of Justice Review Team in Hobart on 10 December.

David Solomon and Rick Snell both spoke to participants, who then discussed the good, bad and indifferent aspects of the current regime. I'm sure the Report faithfully reflects the results, but there is a fair bit of emphasis on improving things for administrators, not necessarily for users. For me it raised a question whether the Forum succeeded in its stated aim of bringing "together key people who respond to requests for information with people who routinely seek access to information using the FOI legislation.."

From the published Participant List of 47 attendees the only users of the Act who were there (apart from Rick Snell who I know has used it from time to time) appear to have been a Greens Member of Parliament and someone from the Environmental Defenders Office; 38 others on the list appear to be representatives of agencies that deal with applications. Maybe user sentiment was heard loud and clear, and there were reasons why media users, interest or professional groups, or interested citizens with experience in using the Act were not invited, uninterested or unable to attend. Maybe FOI indeed is in good shape in Tasmania, albeit with the need, according to participants, for more and better training, awareness and leadership.

But the make-up of the group may explain some of the expressed satisfaction "that the current features of the FOI Act are fundamentally sound and that any suggestions for change are at the margins". And the need even for more rather than less exemptions to protect information received from other governments, state security, and commercial trading and assets of government agencies.

The Review is a public process- submissions close next month- so it will be interesting to see what other users think about FOI in Tassie and how things might be improved.

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