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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hawke submissions and who knows what they are talking about?

Attitudes and culture within government agencies regarding openness and transparency as reflected in submissions to the Hawke Freedom of information review was an issue also picked up in Stephanie Peatling's article in Fairfax Media yesterday: Public servants baulk at FOI changes. 

"The public service is revolting against reforms" are the reporter's words not mine but I admit to the following contributions to Peatling's report, along the lines of my brief summary in a recent post.
 'The first word that comes to mind is blowback,'' lawyer and FOI expert Peter Timmins said. ''The general thrust of most of them is to bring into question the reforms of 2010.''.... Mr Timmins said many members of the public service still tried to keep information from being released for fear of the political fallout.
 ''There are still decisions that err on the side of excessive secrecy,'' Mr Timmins said. ''There's a perspective that all this [the reforms] has gone too far.''
The article attracted comments on-line including this from Eudaimonia of Kingston who really knows how to hurt a guy:
 I doubt if Mr Timmins and his ilk really know much about the FOI Act. I was involved with FOI as a practitioner for 19 years from its inception in Dec '82. For some strange reason, some applicants delude themselves that they will get more mileage out of their request by making it through a lawyer. It couldn't be farther from the truth. Primarily, lawyers, due to the sterile nature of their training. invariably have no concept of ''the spirit of the Act'', which is enshrined in s3 (I think). It was unique to FOI in 1982. Essentially, it says that if there's no good reason for refusing access, then the document should be released. Moreover, the average lawyer may have spent a few lectures and tutorials on FOI in the entire course of his/her training. Upon being hired by the applicant, they pull out their copy of the Act and have a read of it, probably for the first time in some cases. Often their copy of the Act is out-of-date. I once was contacted by a QC on behalf of his client. He was still using a superceded version in which ''personal information about'' had not been substituted for ''information relating to the personal affairs of'' (s41) - very different concepts in law. God only knows what his client was paying for a Silk's advice.


  1. Anonymous4:04 pm

    Ooooh people can be so unkind. Peter, be thankful that Eudaimonia (translated from the Greek for 'happy') of Kingston does not work in FOI anymore. Sadly it does not always take a good reason to refuse access thanks to broad exemptions and until the formation of the OAIC there was no way to hold agencies to account.

  2. Anon, Thanks. I'm bearing up as well as I can.