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Friday, March 26, 2010

FOI reform voices: co-ordination and leadership missing in action

Richard Ackland in The right to know only what it wants in the Sydney Morning Herald takes The Australian to task over a suppression order sought to prevent publication of a report in which it features, because it contains ''matters critical of the conduct of the applicants that adversely affects the business and commercial reputation of the [publisher] and the personal and professional reputation of the [editor]''. In the lead in Ackland observes:
I wondered why Australia's Right to Know Campaign had gone a bit quiet. This is the outfit driven by the main newspaper groups (including Fairfax) and broadcasters to lobby for fewer legal impediments that get in the way of reporters' access to information. A quick check of the Right to Know's website shows the last big thing to happen was a big free speech jamboree in Sydney a year ago. There have been no papers, reports or analysis since 2008. Maybe it's because The Australian newspaper has decided to change sides and go into the suppression business.
By chance I had written this week to a prominent player in the ARTK group raising similar issues and lamenting the fact that they didn't play harder and more visibly on Freedom of Information reform on a national basis, going  way back to the election of the Rudd Government.

A vigorous campaign would have involved enlisting allies to the cause, seeking to better inform the public about the importance of this issue, and  mounting a collective professional effort to go for gold on the reform front. The few voices that spoke up were all over the place, leading the Senate Committee to observe recently that there were many suggestions for changes to the reform bills, but no agreement on what should be changed, therefore there was no point in or time to consider them seriously, including most of those put forward by ARTK.  And of course many didn't speak up at all. ARTK three years after it formed has no web presence, no publicly available collection of submissions, no scorecard of performance, no coalition partners. There has been no movement on reform in Victoria, SA or WA  and NSW has stalled since the departure of Premier Rees..

Ah what might have been. But there is plenty that could be done before the swords are sheathed to await the "comprehensive" review of the Commonwealth act set for two years after the current reforms before parliament commence.

For example, Louise Milligan of the Seven Network, in today's Australian comments in Victoria is too secretive for the public good on the state's place in the FOI/ openness pantheon-and it's way behind others in her experience
I have discovered that the Victorian government and its agencies are perhaps the slowest and most obstructionist of any in the nation...its politicians and bureaucrats are guilty of a control freakery that would have made Sir Joh blush. It's odd, too, given that the Bracks, now Brumby, government, came to power on a promise of renewed democracy after Jeff Kennett.
Victorians have always liked to think that their state lacked the corruption and cronyism seen in the past in Queensland, NSW and Western Australia. But with the shutters being constantly pulled over their eyes, how would they know? It's an insult to their collective intelligence that this continues.
A suitable next front for a reform campaign, with some grunt, public profile and a collection of shoulders to the wheel?

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