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Monday, October 15, 2012

Parliamentary departments and the 'good' FOI news

As I surmised back in May, the penny that the parliamentary departments were subject to the Freedom of Information Act dropped during consideration of issues associated with the establishment of, and an FOI exemption for, the Parliamentary Budget Office. But it was kept under wraps for six months after the Australian Information Commissioner delivered the news to the clerks in December 2011, and made public, following "some correspondence". Hmmm- any resemblance to the clerks is entirely accidental.

 From the OAIC Annual Report 2011-2012 p111
Application of the FOI Act to the Parliamentary departments
When the legislation establishing the Parliamentary Budget Office was introduced, a question was raised about the application of the FOI Act to the other Parliamentary departments: the Department of the House of Representatives, the Department of the Senate and the Department of Parliamentary Services. For years it had been assumed that the FOI Act did not apply to the Parliamentary departments, and that was probably the case up until 1999. However, when the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 was enacted, those departments became subject to the FOI Act. This is because they were established by, or in accordance with, s 54 of the Parliamentary Service Act. This makes each of them ‘an unincorporated body, established for a public purpose by, or in accordance with the provisions of, an enactment’ and therefore a ‘prescribed authority’ for the purposes of the FOI Act.
It is possible that the application of the FOI Act to the Parliamentary departments since 1999 was unintentional, or at least inadvertent.
In December 2011, the FOI Commissioner met with the Clerks of the House and the Senate, and officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services, and advised them that the FOI Act applies to their departments. In May 2012, following some correspondence between those departments and the OAIC, the Information Commissioner amended the Guidelines to reflect the fact that the Act applies to the Parliamentary departments.

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