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Monday, January 09, 2012

Federal parliament and an echo from the past on transparency

Phillip Dorling writing today in the Sydney Morning Herald
Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Alan Thompson sent staff a memo last week announcing his intention to retire with the expectation of finishing as agency head in early April. Mr Thompson said it had been ''an honour and a privilege'' to serve the Parliament over the past 3½ years. Mr Thompson's early departure comes as the Senate finance and public administration committee pursues a wide-ranging investigation into the performance of his agency, which employs 800 staff and spends $120 million a year providing services within Parliament House.
An Australian Law Reform Commission report completed in 1995

11.8 The parliamentary departments are currently excluded from the coverage of the FOI Act.[23] In 1979 the Senate Standing Committee expressed the view that the 'parliamentary departments should be encouraged to act as if the legislation were applicable to them'.[24] DP 59 proposed that the parliamentary departments should be brought within the scope of the FOI Act on the basis that documents that warrant protection would be adequately protected by the exemption provisions, for example s 46 (parliamentary privilege).[25] A number of submissions, including that of the Clerk of the Senate, support the proposal.[26] The Department of the Senate has, in any case, always acted as though it were subject to the FOI Act, releasing documents unless they would have fallen within an exemption. In contrast the Department of Parliamentary Reporting Staff considers that it should remain outside the Act because it does not have a public policy role or provide services to the public. It claims that extending the FOI Act to the parliamentary departments could expose them to lengthy and costly legal challenges in respect of material they would claim to be exempt under s 46.[27] The Department of the Parliamentary Librarian also opposes extending the Act to the parliamentary departments for similar reasons.[28] The Review is not persuaded by these arguments. It remains convinced, particularly in light of the experience of the Department of the Senate, that there is no justification for the parliamentary departments to be excluded from the Act and that being subject to the Act will not cause any greater inconvenience for them than is caused to other agencies subject to the Act. Accordingly, it recommends that the parliamentary departments be made subject to the FOI Act.

Recommendation 73

The parliamentary departments should be made subject to the FOI Act.
The response to this recommendation by the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments, and every parliament since:
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