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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Federal FOI changes to transform government

With important Federal Freedom of Information Act reforms to commence on 1 November, Australian Information Commissioner Designate Professor John McMillan has been talking to the Sydney Morning Herald's Matthew Moore. Worth noting:
Professor McMillan predicted the changes would ''transform government'' as departments realised old rules were gone and there was a new emphasis on ''pro-disclosure.'' He had held meetings with heads of departments and staff to explain how to adapt to the laws by the time they come into force on November 1. ''I say to them, 'You will have to change the way you do business. The government expects cultural change. You have to move from information control to information sharing,''' Professor McMillan said.
In some agencies senior managers were resistant to the new laws and still had the mindset that ''we are creating documents to support the government or for internal purposes''. That idea was ''erroneous'', the professor said. The new laws state specifically that ''information held by government is to be managed for public purposes and is a national resource''...

There have been many criticisms of how the law has operated since it was passed by the Fraser government in 1982. The professor said it had led to a fundamental change in access to information and had become an ''informal part of the constitution''. He expected the amended law to deliver a similar level of change. He supports making compliance with the laws part of the employment contracts for departmental heads.

As information commissioner, he said he would act as a ''champion'' for those seeking access to information in the public interest. ''[The commissioner] is really an open government champion,'' he said. ''All you are advocating is better information management in agencies and a pro-disclosure culture.''

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