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Monday, December 07, 2009

Federal Government still interested in examining private sector disclosure rules

Thanks to the alert reader who noticed in the fine print of the Second Reading Speech on the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill, confirmation that the Government intends to go ahead with a reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission on private sector disclosures. Timing is vague, compared to then Special Minister of State Senator Faulkner's statement in March 2009,
"Terms of reference for this review will be finalised by ministers later in the year."
Parliamentary Secretary Byrne on 26 November gave no indication of when this is likely when he said:
To ensure the reform package delivers effective change, provision is made in the bill for the act to be reviewed two years after the commencement of the reforms. The government will also consider further improvements and will ask the Australian Law Reform Commission to inquire into whether the FOI Act or another disclosure regime should apply to the private sector."
Business is not out of the woods on this one, despite these earlier signs. Strangely in March and November and the months in between there has not been a public word from the Government about the thinking behind this initiative. Presumably issues concerning disclosures by private sector entities that carry out public functions, receive large amounts of public money, or relate to public health, safety and environmental impacts of their activities are part of the picture. All will be clear sometime.

In passing noticed that Bronwyn Bishop (Liberal Mackellar) in Parliament in June spoke about Australian participation in an Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Addis Ababa earlier in the year "and a reservation from Australia ( accepted by the meeting) relating to freedom of information, and that was that it should apply to governments and not to the private sector." Not exactly consistent with the Government's expressed interest in exploring the issue more closely. The IPU Resolution adopted at the meeting, among many statements on Freedom of Expression and The Right to Information:
"Encourages the development of freedom of information beyond State actors to encompass significant private-sector companies and bodies."
Thanks to Open Australia for the Hansard links.

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