Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"From next year, Queenslanders will have the most open, accountable and transparent government ever seen across this nation"

So sayeth Attorney General Bleijie in Parliament on 27 November in introducing the Right to Information and Integrity (Openness and Transparency) Amendment Bill 2012. The bill passed on an urgency motion (debate on the bill itself is in the Hansard 29 November at 3012), received assent yesterday 11 December (Act 45/12) and will commence on a date to be proclaimed.

The changes relate to the RTI act disclosure logs and the the Integrity Act - the latter regarding lobbying, with an Australian first in extending the scope to parliamentary opposition leaders, and requiring lobbyists to keep records of contacts and provide information to the Integrity Commissioner.

The legislation was so urgent apparently that as the Explanatory Note ( see under Right to information.....) states:
 "The community has not been consulted on the Bill. The Acting Information Commissioner was provided with a draft of the amendments to the Right to Information Act 2009 . The Integrity Commissioner was consulted, and provided input into, the proposed amendments to the Integrity Act 2009." 
(I can see a difference in wording here that may be significant.)

Leaving the "best ever" claim to one side - and Opposition leader Palaszczuk claimed the bill weakens the existing integrity laws - journalists and media organisations will be disappointed. I've heard some are pushing the Hawke review in Canberra arguing for five days for exclusive use of documents released in response to a Commonwealth Freedom of Information request. Queensland where they have had up to now at least 24 hours before released information is posted on the disclosure log is cited as a less than perfect precedent.

I guess there have been "I'm mad as hell" shouts in light of the fact that the Queensland 24 hour exclusive period has been scotched as a result of the amendments. This provision in the repealed s 78 "However, nothing about the document (including a copy of the document) may be put on a disclosure log until at least 24 hours after the applicant accesses the document" isn't in the substituted section 78, 78A and 78B The new formulation is to post released documents on the log "as soon as practicable" after release to the applicant.

Rumbling in media circles won't be limited to the lack of opportunity to defend the 24 hours period or argue for longer. Another aspect of the new system likely to give rise to media angst is that details of what information is sought are to be posted on the log as soon as practicable after a valid application has been received by an agency and before any decision on release has been made. 

Here are the relevant extracts from the Explanatory Note (emphasis added)

The current disclosure log requirements do not oblige agencies to place the actual documents that have been accessed on the disclosure log. The amendments place new obligations on certain agencies, namely departments and Ministers, to publish on the disclosure log the applicant’s name and the actual documents that have been accessed through right to information applications, with appropriate deletions, as soon as practicable after the documents have been released to the applicant. .
The amendments allow for appropriate deletions to be made from the information to
be published including where it is prevented by law, may be defamatory or would
unreasonably invade an individual’s privacy. The amendments also require right to information applications to indicate whether access is sought for the benefit of, or use by the applicant or another entity. If access is sought for the benefit of, or use by an entity other than the applicant then the name
of the entity is also to appear on the disclosure log after the applicant has accessed the
documents. In addition departments and Ministers are , as soon as practicable after an application
has been made, required to include on the disclosure log details of the information
being sought and the date the application was made.

And on Amendments to the Integrity Act 2009
The Integrity Act 2009 provides the legislative framework for the regulation of the
lobbying industry in Queensland. Lobbyists are required to apply to be listed on the Lobbyists Register prior to undertaking lobbying activities. Government
representatives (currently including Ministers, Assistant Ministers, councillors, public sector officers and Ministerial staff members) are not permitted to allow lobbying activity except by registered lobbyists.
The Bill will extend the current operation of the Act to Opposition representatives, to ensure that the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and staff members of the office of the Leader of the Opposition are bound by the same standards in relation to lobbying activity, as the Government. This will enhance the accountability of current operations of the Opposition. To extend the application of the lobbying provisions to the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition and staff members of the office of the Leader of the Opposition, the Bill will insert a new definition of “Opposition representative” and amend the definition of “lobbying activity” to apply to efforts to influence Opposition decisionmaking.
In addition, to improve the current operation of the lobbying provisions of the Act, the Bill inserts a new definition of “third party client” of a lobbyist. This new definition makes it clear that, in order to conduct lobbying activity, a lobbyist must be delivering lobbying services for a client for a fee or other reward that is agreed before the services are provided.
The Bill also inserts a new provision to make it clear that the Lobbyists’ Code of
Conduct may include obligations for lobbyists to provide information about their
lobbying activities to the Integrity Commissioner....

Queensland comment and commentary welcome.

No comments:

Post a comment