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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It wasn't all the Budget in Canberra yesterday.

Those Federal Freedom of Information reform bills did get a run in the House of Representatives yesterday when the Second Reading debate resumed following introduction of the bills last November. The Government has the numbers in the House so the bills can sail through there at any time of its choosing, but the Senate is a different matter: Opposition support or the votes of all third party and independent senators will be needed to assure passage there. Shadow Minister for Justice Michael Keenan outlined the current situation:
I understand that discussions are underway between the opposition and the government regarding the onus of proof provision. Whilst the coalition supports these bills in principle, further amendments will be made in the Senate. I trust that the government and the opposition, with a bit of goodwill on both sides, will be able to find common ground on these two bills. As mentioned in the Bills Digest regarding the FOI Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009, there is an argument that in a number of areas the reforms do not go far enough. A common theme in submissions to the Senate inquiry was that, while the bill repeals a small number of exemptions, it retains an almost entirely untouched list of excluded agencies and documents held by certain agencies listed in schedule 2 of the FOI Act.
The debate (four speakers, then adjourned) generally was set piece stuff, with plenty of barbs back and forward about action (or inaction) on open government promises by the Howard and Rudd governments when they have had the chance. Mark Dreyfus, widely experienced in FOI in his previous life at the Bar, highlighted the positives, but in having a crack at the Opposition for ignoring the Australian Law Reform Commission's Open Government Report of 1995 failed to mention those ALRC recommendations that the Government has simply ignored without explanation, including that the parliamentary departments should be made subject to the FOI Act (31).These recommendations and weaknesses and gaps in the bills that quite a few of us see escaped other speakers as well. Next time maybe.

Thanks to Open Australia for the links.

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