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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Victorian FOI Commissioner bill close to next step

Debate resumed in the Victorian Legislative Assembly last night on the Freedom of Information Amendment (Freedom of Information Commissioner) Bill, introduced in December and was interrupted before a vote was taken. (Update: no further debate on 8th but according to the note accompanying the bill debate must be completed by 4.00 pm on Thursday 09/02/2012- Further update in note below)

See my take on the bill at the time-not quite the joke the Opposition claims but no great shakes and narrow, limited reform in any event.

You can read The Age report or go the full monty (Legislative Assembly  Hansard 7 February  pages 43-59) if you are up for wading through nine speeches from both sides over close to two hours, exchanging criticism of their respective records on open government and failure to live up to prior rhetoric. "Drivel", "lies"  and "hypocricy" feature prominently. Opposition front bencher Tim Pallas didn't hold back, showing a touch of the b word himself:
"This is a rancid bill, hiding the arrogant and rotten culture of born-to-rule belligerence in the government."
The Liberals in opposition in 2008 did their part in blocking a mixed-bag Labor FOI reform bill.  The numbers mean Labor won't be able to return the favour despite the fact that another Opposition front bencher Jill Hennessy told the Assembly Labor would vote against the bill in the Council if its amendments, flagged but yet to be rolled out, were not adopted.

 For the record Ms Hennessy told Parliament
our amendments will wind back the time the FOI commissioner has to review an agency’s decision from 30 days to 14 days. That is the same time frame that exists under the current system, yet again further illuminating evidence as to why this bill makes FOI worse, not better. We will move to reduce the time an agency has to consider a decision of the FOI commissioner to release documents from 60 days to 28 days. In terms of dealing with the independence of the independent FOI commissioner, our amendments will have the effect of ensuring that the commissioner is appointed for at least five years, not up to five years as in the current bill. We believe that goes some way to ensuring and entrenching greater independence in the commissioner. Our amendments will also ensure that the commissioner is not limited to commenting but has the right to comment on bad FOI practices as well as those which reflect on ministers and departments.
Fourteen days for external review is wildly optimistic given the need to get hold of the documents in dispute and get across the issues and content, and in the light of experience elsewhere. But it's all rhetoric at this stage as Labor needs support from others to get anything through.

(Further update:the Assembly passed the bill on 9 February without amendment or further debate-Hansard p57.)

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