Search This Blog

Friday, August 28, 2009

SA "enhancing democracy" through special FOI exemption

Quite a fuss in South Australia as a result of the Government adding a regulation to specially exempt from the Freedom of Information Act any documents concerning an investigation by former Auditor-General Ken MacPherson into claims of bullying and outside influence at Burnside Council, a hot issue there over the past year. The Regulation also extends to any information relating to the investigation, whenever created, including that held by any agency assisting in the investigation; the Department of Primary Industries and Resources; the Minister for State/Local Government Relations; and the Department of Planning and Local Government.

Russell Emmerson in The Advertiser quotes the Minister as saying the move was aimed at enhancing democracy, not hobbling it.

"It's vital that witnesses feel they can provide full, free and frank information to the Burnside investigation without fear of defamation threats and other reprisals," she said."If people feel intimidated and avoid providing any evidence, or parts of it, then it would completely undermine the purpose of holding this investigation."

In an editorial The Advertiser comments:

"Of course, chief among the reasons the inquiry will be kept secret, save for a sanitised report to be tabled, is damage control.Nowhere in the FoI Act will the reader find the term damage control, but it continues to serve as its primary purpose."

All sorts of investigations happen in and around government everyday. They need to be full and fair.Information, which if disclosed, would prejudice proper investigation needs to be protected. It's surprising standard exemptions in the FOI Act weren't judged sufficiently robust to protect sensitive information in this instance.(Update: The Minister says the investigator requested the change)

South Australia is one of three Australian jurisdictions choosing not to speak the words "fundamental reform" when it comes to access to government information.

No comments:

Post a Comment