Things moved along so smartly at the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee hearing on the Freedom of Information Reform Bills, this morning that proceedings adjourned for an hour at 10:30. They went way ahead of schedule when questioning of the first witness, Ombudsman Professor McMillan ran out of steam after 15 of the scheduled 45 minutes. Then the few members of the Committee who made it at 10:15 for a session with officers of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet only managed to keep things going for 8 minutes before questions dried up.
In between the point made by Michael McKinnon appearing for Australia's Right to Know about the reversal of the onus of proof in Administrative Appeals Tribunal processes (so the party seeking review would carry the onus, not always the agency that made the decision) dominated discussion in his 45 minutes, with Opposition Senator Brandis (not present otherwise) taking great delight in contrasting the Government's rhetoric about the magnitude of the proposed changes with what he described as a bizarre obstacle to disclosure that applicants who take a matter to the AAT might face.
This despite the fact that McKinnon had kicked off saying that after a meeting yesterday with Minister Ludwig the situation might not be as clear as he had argued in a submission,and in the light of the complexities explained, now needed to seek legal advice before making another submission on the subject. PM&C later explained the agency will continue to carry the onus in any Information Commissioner review, but based on precedent with other bodies such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission it would not be appropriate for the Commissioner to defend the decision in the AAT, therefore if the matter went further the party who took it should carry the onus.