The Government’s FOI reform legislation, the Australian Information Commissioner Bill 2010 and the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2010, passed through the Parliament today.
The Government moved amendments to both Bills in the House of Representatives yesterday, which were agreed. Details of those amendments and the final Bills as passed by both Houses are available from the Parliament of Australia ParlInfo website: see Australian Information Commissioner Bill 2010 and Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2010
Following Royal Assent of the Bills, the majority of the measures (including the establishment of the new Office of the Australian Information Commissioner) will commence on a day to be fixed by proclamation, or six months after Royal Assent. The Government will make an announcement on this matter.
As you may be aware, the Government announced on 26 February this year the engagement of Professor John McMillan AO as the Information Commissioner Designate. Preparations for the establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner are continuing. This includes work on new FOI guidelines so that they are ready in sufficient time for commencement of the changes to the FOI request regime. The new Information Publication Scheme will commence six months later than the other reform measures.
The Media Release from Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig says:
“These bills constitute the biggest overhaul of the FOI Act since its inception and are directed to providing a stronger foundation for openness in government.” “I am proud to facilitate the passage of this legislation, which is a key component of the Government’s drive to restore trust and integrity in government” Senator Ludwig said.
The centrepiece of these reforms is the establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and two new independent office holders, the Australian Information Commissioner and the FOI Commissioner. The Commissioners will have wide ranging FOI functions to promote openness and transparency as intended by the Government’s reforms.
Other changes include a new framework for agency-driven proactive publication of government information; a single public interest test for many exemptions, which favours disclosure; abolition of application fees and reduced charges; and reducing the open access period under the Archives Act from 30 years to 20 years for most records.
“The Rudd Government recognises we are responsible and accountable to the people we serve. That’s why in opposition we committed to overhauling FOI and today we have delivered on that promise in full” Senator Ludwig said.