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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Early "Gotcha" prize

Sean Parnell FOI Editor of The Australian is a contender - but it's still early in the year -  for this story yesterday that Freedom of Information requests to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer for any written references given, resulted in a refusal from the PM on the basis that such documents are not covered by the Act, while Treasurer Wayne Swan released his in full. Parnell is seeking review of the decision.

To come within the scope of the Federal FOI Act an official document (Section 4) held by a minister must be a document that is in "the possession of a Minister, .. in his or her capacity as a Minister, being a document that relates to the affairs of an agency or of a Department of State." I guess the argument is that (generally) personal references given by the PM don't relate to the affairs of an agency.

Parnell ran into a similar hurdle last year when he tried under the NSW FOI Act (which has substantially the same definition of Minister's document) to access then Premier Iemma's appointment diary for a day at the ALP  State Conference meeting business observers, losing in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal on grounds that this did not relate to the affairs of an agency.  Parnell mentioned he had been granted access to this type of information in Western Australia. But he and others interested  could do a little better in NSW, come the commencement of the Government Information (Public Access) Act ("early in 2010"). The Act extends to information held by a minister or member of the minister's personal staff "in the course of the exercise of official functions in,or for any official purpose of, or for the use of, the office of Minister of the Crown" (Schedule 4 Clause 11). No reference to the need to relate to an agency's affairs.

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