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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Australian Information Commissioner: drum roll please

The Office of Australian Information Commissioner website is up and running today, with that office, including the integrated Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and the Freedom of Information legislative reforms (other than the publication scheme requirements) to commence from 1 November. This OAIC Fact Sheet summarises what’s changed in FOI.
(An official launch of the Office will take place at Parliament House Canberra on 1 November.)

Yet to appear is the regulation containing changes to fees and charges. In March 2009 the Government announced proposed changes including abolition of all application fees; that no charges will apply to applicants seeking access to their own personal information; that for all other applications, the first hour of decision-making time will be free (except for journalists and not-for-profit community groups where the first five hours of decision making time will be free); and applications not decided within the statutory time frame will be processed free of charge.

A Draft Regulation was released in December 2009, but is no longer posted on the FOI Reform webpage.

In this submission I raised a number of issues including the dangerous idea that in order to encourage the stated objects of reform, charges rather than application fees should be abolished to address the problem of the high cost barrier to access. Not holding my breath on that one, but Tasmania managed it.

The submission perhaps more realistically raised points about the special charges concession of five hours proposed for a journalist, a term not defined in the draft, but left to each agency to apply where "reasonably satisfied" a person was a journalist applying for documents in connection with activities as a journalist. Issues such as why five hours, why not for John and Mary Citizen also seeking to hold government to account, who is a journalist, and would bloggers and citizen journalists be left to try to argue it out with every agency?

All will be revealed soon I imagine if the new regime is to take effect from 1 November.

Pleased to see in another context that the bill introduced by Opposition Shadow Attorney General Brandis on a shield law for journalists follows the NZ approach of defining journalist and news medium in a way that would seem wide enough to cover "new journalism":
Journalist means a person who in the normal course of that person’s work may be given information by an informant in the expectation that the information may be published in a news medium. News medium means a medium for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observations on news.

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