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Monday, February 16, 2009

ACT FOI changes.

Thanks to Ray Polglaze of the ACT who did some checking on what happened last week in the ACT Assembly and confirmed as follows.

The legislation as passed abolishes conclusive certificates in relation to documents affecting relations between the Commonwealth and States, executive (cabinet) documents and internal working documents but retains certificates for documents claimed exempt on national security grounds.(The last point wasn’t picked up in the Canberra Times which reported all certificates had gone.You have to wonder why the ACT retains this power when the Commonwealth Government’s own bill before the Parliament would abolish all conclusive certificates.)

There is a new provision that excludes cabinet notebooks from access under the FOI Act. (The Government’s other proposals that would have added some new exemptions for example for question time briefs, to ensure “frank and candid advice” appear to have all been rejected.)

On the wider FOI review agreed between The Greens and the ALP as part of the deal that enabled the ALP to form government after the last election, this seems likely to now be undertaken by the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety. The Assembly also voted unanimously to change the standing orders to create a new position of independent arbiter to determine whether claims of executive privilege on Government documents ordered to be tabled were legitimate, similar to the role played for some years now in the NSW Legislative Council by former chief justice Sir Laurence Street.

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