The thought strikes me that there was a great opportunity missed in all this to have some dialogue, rather than set pieces, between those in government and those outside to thrash out many of the views and ideas in these submissions - the couple of hours in Canberra last May where virtually no-one turned up hardly counts. I don't think there was a serious attempt to go for gold on this one.
My submission (19 on the list) expressed support for the framework proposed and welcomed many aspects of the legislation, but drew attention to
- the two year process to get to this point has been slow compared to other Australian reform initiatives, with limited public discussion and debate other than about amendment legislative drafting;
- the selective and unexplained nature of the Government's approach to acting on "key" recommendations of the 1995 Australian Law Reform Commission Report, choosing not to act on a number of important recommendations for example to extend the Act to the parliamentary departments, reduce the time limit on processing applications progressively to 14 days, requiring chief executives to ensure full and accurate records are kept. These issues feature in a number of other submissions, including that of the President of the ALRC, so hopefully at least some questions will be asked on Friday;
- the proposed abolition of application fees and retention of charges for processing may not be a efficient answer to removing the cost barriers touse of the Act at the least administrative cost, (again picked up by a couple of others);
- scope to improve the bills in a number of areas including by specifying additional types of information to be published on the web by agencies, or giving the Information Commissioner powers to mandate what should be published; reframing the legislation as a right to information not right to documents act; extending the law to cover the administration of parliament; modifying several of the exemption provisions, including removing doubt about "frankness and candour" as a public interest consideration favouring non-disclosure of policy and related documents; proscribing ministerial involvement in decision making on applications for agency documents and including offence provisions for improper interference with decisions along the lines of new Queensland, NSW and Tasmanian legislation; limiting agency rights to seek AAT review of an Information Commissioner decision on the basis it was wrong, and requiring the Commissioner to defend the decision when an agency takes that step; and widening the criteria for a cost order in favour of an applicant who is substantially successful in the Tribunal. Again I'm not Robinson Crusoe on a number of these points.