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Monday, May 10, 2010

FOI front and center at Press Freedom Day

The World Press Freedom Day Conference in Brisbane last week on the theme of Freedom of Information, the Right to Know, included a Masterclass involving (as Part 1) Queensland Information Commissioner Julie Kinross, Rick Snell of the University of Tasmania, Toby Mendell from Canada and Michael McKinnon of Seven Network. Snell spoke about the importance of a system wide approach to information access issues, rather than a focus on an act which may or may not deliver much. Mendell outlined the considerable progress around the world on FOI since 1990 with laws now in place in more than 70 countries.The Conference Brisbane Declaration may be a further prompt to action by the laggards on what is now an accepted part of the international law on rights.

Kinross reaffirmed the Queensland Government's ambition to be the most open and accountable government in Australia- others prepared to take the challenge please step forward- with the Right to Information Act just one of a range of means designed to deliver on the promise. She made some interesting comments about measures designed to promote open government including a relevant provision, now included in the performance agreement of the chief executive of each government agency to advance the objects of the act, and oversight of performance in this respect by a committee including the head of the Premier's department and Treasury; the policy context established by the Government's Information Management Policy that forms part of a government wide Strategic Framework that probably has a 10 year time frame; standards for agency performance, and current collection of baseline data for future comparative purposes; report cards required by the Right to Information Act to be submitted to a parliamentary committee; and the offence provisions in the act and how they promote independence in decision making.
McKinnon while supportive of the "push" model said he thought he would be waiting a long time for government to proactively publish potentially embarrassing information, so the "pull" method would continue to be part of journalists' modus operandi. McKinnon said the media coalition Australia's Right to Know was about to seek to engage the to date uninterested South Australian Government on the topic of broad Freedom of Information reform.  That's a good thing- Victoria and Western Australia could do with pressure to act as well.

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