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Monday, July 15, 2013

Parliament outside the FOI zone... because it always has been

Or, well, because we thought it was..

I was in touch with my local member about the blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act legislated by the parliament for the parliamentary departments that support the operations of that august body with a budget allocation of around $170 million.

My email, 3 June:
Mr (Malcolm) Turnbull,
I'm glad common sense prevailed regarding the party funding proposal. But I'm staggered that in 11 minutes in the House last Wednesday the blanket FOI exemption for the three parliamentary departments went through with nods from both sides. This is my take. Would be interested to know what you think.
 Peter Timmins.
Not a peep until this, at 8.35pm on the quiet Saturday night just passed, six weeks later:
"thanks for your note Peter – the exemptions were of longstanding or thought to be.
All the best
Good that he probably read my email. Courteous that he replied. 

But unpersuasive as to reasons, particularly not explaining the rush to legislate beyond what the departments themselves saw as necessary, and in advance of the Hawke report that looked into scope of the act issues among others. I could go on:
the more general argument for instance that the accountability and transparency framework should apply to all government agencies in principle; the parliament's failure to legislate for an integrity commissioner; that some of the resources are spent on entitlements and support for members and senators; that FOI coverage of parliament is accepted in the UK, Scotland, and Ireland, among others; and that the Australian Law Reform Commission and former clerk of the Senate Harry Evans to name just two supported extension of the act to the departments. And the then Prime Minister's 2010, "let's draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it ever was before.."

But you've heard it all before.

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