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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Queensland review of right to information and privacy laws

Queensland Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie has released issues papers in connection with the statutory review of the Right to Information Act and the Information Privacy Act.

Plenty of time until 15 November for comment and submissions. 

Some of the issues will get an airing at the invitation only Open Government Policy Forum in Brisbane next week - I scored one, thank you.

The RTI Issues Paper (pdf) canvasses big picture issues including:
  • the 'push' model, how it is working generally, and how to give effect to the Premier's  "determination, through the open data revolution, to change the culture of the Queensland Government to be more open by allowing more public access to Government information collected in all regions, in all kinds of formats, for all kinds of reasons"
  • the scope of the act including possible extension to those Government Owned Corporations not currently fully covered, to corporations established by the Queensland Government under the Corporations Act, and to contracted service providers where they are performing functions on behalf of government. (In 2011 Mr Bleijie in Opposition introduced but didn't get far with the Right to Information (Government-Related Entities) Amendment Bill 2011 which would have extended the act to cover any corporation supported directly or indirectly by government funds or other assistance, or over which the state, a minister or a department is in a position to exercise control.)
  • excluded documents and grounds for refusal of access including the adequacy of the current public interest considerations and a possible new factor favouring disclosure in the interests of consumer protection. No detailed discussion of the absolute exemptions and whether a public interest test should apply, or specific mention of several unique Queensland exemptions: the equivalent of a cabinet exemption for the Brisbane City Council Establishment and Coordination Committee, championed by the Premier when Lord Mayor; the ten year exemption for information about local government's budgetary processes, and the eight year exemption for Investment incentive scheme information. Ominously perhaps, the question is asked whether there is a need beyond current protections "for information in communications between Ministers and Departments." With regard to the current 10 year exemption for incoming minister briefs, the paper notes "no other jurisdiction has a specific exemption to protect this information, and it could be argued that these documents make a significant contribution to public debate." Interesting, coming just as the Hawke report released last Friday recommends a similar exemption should be included in the Commonwealth FOI act! As is this floating balloon: "Are the current provisions in the RTI Act sufficient to deal with access applications for information about successful applicants for public service positions?"
(Addendum: while there is discussion of issues arising from the current provision concerning limited circumstances where an agency may neither confirm nor deny existence of documents, and not give reasons, no mention of the Callinan report recommendation that an agency should not be required to give reasons for a refusal of access decision for any application for nine months. The Government announced recently that the recommendation was accepted in principle, noting it raised important and complex implementation problems.)
There are lots of other matters raised, primarily of interest and relevance to government insiders and aficionados on the outside. I see that the review is being conducted by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General "with oversight by a steering committee of senior representatives from relevant departments." Have to wonder what sort of issues might emerge from a process overseen by a steering committee of senior public servants and community representatives with or without experience in the area? Just wondering....

The big questions in the Information Privacy Discussion Paper (pdf) concern national uniformity in particular the advantages and disadvantages of aligning the current information privacy principles with the Commonwealth's Australian Privacy Principles to come into effect next year, or adopting those principles in Queensland. As the paper notes there is
significant confusion and complexity about how privacy law operates for governments and the private and community sector. In addition, it may create an unjustified compliance burden, particularly where organisations operate in more than one jurisdiction, and are required to comply with multiple layers of privacy regulation. Consumers who have complaints about privacy are often confused or unsure about who the appropriate privacy regulator is.
Ah, the search for national uniformity. Good luck to us all.

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