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Monday, October 18, 2010

FOI a bargain in the spin equation

Allen and Unwin 2007
Peter Rolfe and Simon Kearney in the Herald Sun estimate at least 3000 media advisers are employed by  federal and state governments at a salary cost of $250 million, with the Victorian Government at the top of the bill, and around $50 million a year spent by federal departments. It's unfair to suggest that all public affairs activities equate with spin, or to try to make a point that this money is spent providing the public with information no one asked for. Or to make too much of the arguments put by Bob Burton that spin generally and the proliferation of invisible forces increasingly is shaping public debate in a way that is incompatible with a healthy democracy. Or of the views of Queensland Royal Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald 20 years ago that "there is no legitimate justification for taxpayers money to be spent on politically motivated propaganda"(quoted by Burton p187.)

But to put the cost thing in perspective, federal agencies in 2008-09 spent a total of $24.5 million in staff costs and $5.7 million in non-labour costs in managing the Freedom of Information function including processing 27,500 requests-for information members of the public specifically wanted. (Annual Report 2008-2009 Appendix L). National FOI costs to compare with the $250 million overall are not available because most states don't collect or publish this information.

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