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Monday, November 15, 2010

"New disclosure czar hits ground running"

You can hear Peter Mares (with some FOI experiences of his own) in discussion with Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMilllan on this week's ABC Radio National  National Interest. Here's my summary of points of interest.

Professor McMillan is upbeat about the prospects for lasting and effective open government reform, and says he's struck by the positive response from his hundreds of meetings with senior agency executives. Three factors make for real change this time- independent oversight through his office, strong government support, and the extent and force of the FOI reform wave in this country and elsewhere.

In response to a question about public servants still facing criminal prosecution for any unauthorised disclosure, Professor McMillan said a proper open government package needed more than FOI changes, and referrred to the "excellent" report on the review of secrecy laws from the Australian Law Reform Commission still waiting a government response.

Stronger adoption of electronic records management was essential to making the law work effectively.

Professor McMillan acknowledged that in the past agencies had been prepared to refuse access often on shaky grounds, putting the applicant to the test to take the matter further through a costly Tribunal process. This will be less likely now with review available free of charge from the Commissioner's Office. The Commissioner said the office discourages legal representation- that's a good thing as in the Tribunal agencies are usually well represented and aggrieved applicants often on their own.

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