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Thursday, June 25, 2009

NSW Government Information Bill passed by both Houses

The NSW Government Information (Public Access) Bill passed the Assembly on Tuesday and the Legislative Council around 12.30 this morning . The Greens' Lee Rhiannon moved 26 amendments in the Council. All but two related amendments failed as the Opposition sided with the Government on the Bill as introduced, claiming they didn't have sufficient time to consider them properly.

Rejected amendments included an attempt to have Parliament itself brought within the scope of the Act, particularly to ensure scutiny of $100 million allocated for Members' Support including payments to, and expenditures by, members. Attorney General Hatzistergos at one point claimed this information was already publicly available, and on another that what was being proposed " sounded like voyeurism." Ms Rhiannon says the failure to accept the Ombudsman's recommendations in this regard and the lead of countries such as the UK, Ireland, Scotland, India and South Africa tarnishes an otherwise good effort:
"Premier Nathan Rees says he wants to open up his government but he has locked the gate at Macquarie Street, ruining what should be a good news story," Ms Rhiannon said. "The public will still be barred from scrutinising how the $123 million annual budget for NSW Parliament is spent. "The Premier hoped these new FOI laws would signal a new era of openness but the exclusion of NSW Parliament signals that NSW Labor's love affair with secrecy continues. "MPs' pay and how they spend their generous perks and travel allowances will remain a state secret, despite the Premier's claims that 'the days of a secret state are over'.
I'm still looking at the Hansard. The Greens one success was to gain Government support for amendments to ensure searches for documents are conducted efficiently, for example information is retrieved electronically not through papers searches, to reduce the potential costs to applicants- an issue raised in my submission on the Consultation Draft. Unsuccessful amendments sought to:

· strengthen the Act's objects clause

· subject information now caught by a blanket FOI exemption to a
public interest test

· narrow the government's broad definition of cabinet documents
excluded from FOI

· reduce the new lengthier time frames for dealing with FOI

· allow the Information Commissioner to ensure government agencies
comply with the Act.

Let the new era begin!!


  1. Anonymous10:04 am

    But after all of that, why bother asking for submissions if there's going to be no obvious recognition that they've even been made? Is this what passes for parliamentary debate in NSW? Is parliament so embarrassed that the Attorney can claim public interest in information held by parliament (and 'tarians') amounts to 'voyeurism'?

  2. There were some changes to the Consultation draft, drawn from submissions, in the Bills as introduced by the Government, but there were plenty of good ideas that didn't get a run. One weakness in the whole process was that everything going right back to the Ombudsman's review through to the Government's legislation was done "on the papers" through written papers and submissions. I suggested that much would be gained by some discussion with those outside government who had something to contribute but it just never happened.Hardly utilising "the wisdom of the crowd" to use Lindsay Tanner's words of earlier in the week.As to the quality of the debate, there was certainly plenty of it-see the next post.