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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Queen's Australian men and women in, and out, of FOI laws

While the Queen is among us, some unrelated controversy in Victoria over the lack of transparency and accountability at Government House, particularly concerning costs of Governor Alex Chernov's recent overseas visits, but more generally the exemption of the Governor's Office from the Freedom of Information Act by virtue of this provision in the (who would think to look there?) Constitution Act.
Premier Ted Baillieu called a meeting with key staff last week to discuss the issue and made contact with the Governor to weigh up public release of the documents. But it is believed a decision was made to leave the matter in the hands of the Governor.....the travel costs of Victoria's governors have always remained secret - and nothing appears about to change. A spokesman for Mr Baillieu, Simon Troeth, said the Government had nothing more to say about the issue further to a statement issued last week that "detailed questions about the Governor's official travel are matters for the Office of the Governor".
On exemption from the FOI act, for reasons hard to fathom, it's a mixed bag around the nation with the Governor in three jurisdictions subject to the access to information law to some degree, but not at all in three other states apart from Victoria.

The Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act applies to the Office of Official Secretary to the Governor General in respect of documents of an administrative nature ( with a current matter of contention). Similarly the Tasmanian Right to Information Act applies to the state Governor regarding information relating to administration. I can't see the Governor excluded from the South Australian Freedom of Information Act, so presumably the Governor is covered there, although glad to be corrected. 

As to other states, the office of Governor is not a public office for the purposes of the NSW  Government Information (Public Access )Act (clause 3), or the Queensland Right to Information Act, and the "Governor and the Governor’s establishment" are excluded from the Western Australian Freedom of Information Act. 

In Victoria for many obvious reasons, this being a relatively minor one, the penny should have dropped that the FOI act is in need of a thorough overhaul, but there is no sign of recognition so far. And in the other three states affording the Governor a complete exemption from FOI it's time to  amend the act to cast off this colonial overhang of fealty to the Queen's men and women. (Not to mention this relic of Australia's constitutional past- the Queen's powers to annul any law passed by the Australian Parliament within a year of its passage.) Cringe.

As to the Queen on home turf, this from Buckingham Palace:
The Royal Household is not a public authority within the meaning of the FOI Acts, and is therefore exempt from their provisions.Despite its exemption from the FOI Acts, the Royal Household's policy is to provide information as freely as possible in other areas, and to account openly for its use of public money

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