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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Senate Committee says yes to no conclusive certificates.

The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee reported yesterday on the Federal Government's legislation to abolish conclusive certificates from the Freedom of Information Act and recommended....
"that the Senate pass the bill."
That's it, apart from some additional comments from the three Opposition Senators (who supported the Bill in any event) that in reality conclusive certificates had rarely been used during the Howard era, and that of greater interest and concern should be the Rudd Government's record on disclosure under the Act as revealed in the Annual Report tabled last month.

The Committee Report includes good and stirring words about the importance of Freedom of Information as part of the fabric of democratic society, and summarises the points made in most of the few (eight) submissions received, and by witnesses in the one Committee hearing that lasted a little over an hour.

As all the submissions and witnesses favoured abolition it's not surprising the Committee concluded as it did. The only matters that had elicited comment from those of us who did participate were on the couple of consequential changes regarding review and several add-on provisions that the Government slipped in and had nothing to do with certificates. The Committee without any attempt at reasoning just wasn't interested in any of the points raised- things like a suggestion to give the AAT an override discretion to order release of exempt documents on public interest grounds, or several who challenged the necessity to give a blanket exemption for documents received by a minister from security and intelligence agencies.

So another three months has passed since the bill to achieve this first phase FOI change was introduced, and the way has now been cleared to pass an important and almost universally supported reform. But 16 months on from the election of a government committed to fundamental change ( particularly a change in culture) we are still to hear about the Government's big picture Freedom of Information proposals or see any serious effort to send a message to the public service that things should be done differently under the Rudd Government.

All eyes on Minister Faulkner at the Freedom of Speech Conference in Sydney on 24 March.

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