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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Senate Committee inquiry into planned abolition of OAIC:submissions close in 5 days

The Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 has been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 25 November. A letter inviting submissions sets Thursday 6 November as the closing date. And I understand a public hearing will take place on 10 November. 

Abolishing the OAIC and dispensing with many of its FOI and leadership functions goes way beyond the much needed tweaking of the FOI review system.The Government case is weak and unconvincing. Strongly urge those who think likewise to make a submission.

In essence:  
The changes proposed are a giant step backward. FOI was an orphan in government for close to 30 years without an independent champion and advocate, someone to nurture, safeguard,and promote the idea that the citizenry has a right to access government information. FOI suffered the more time went on, culminating in the dark Howard years leading to the 2007 election. That gap was filled by the reforms of 2010 although the Commissioner was never properly empowered or resourced. Now the position is to be abolished. Review of a government decision not to disclose information in response to an FOI application, now available after an unsatisfactory long delay, but at no charge, from the Information Commissioner will in future only be available by application to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. From 1 July the fee has been $861, although there are concessions; the process is unlikely to be speedy and you would be game venturing there without a lawyer because the government agency arguing against you will have a good, expensive one. In future advice and guidance on the interpretation of the legislation for government agencies, now with the Commissioner, will be in the hands of the Attorney General and the Department. 
The claim that these changes will improve transparency and accountability and remove the so called 'burden' on FOI applicants is laughable, not based on evidence, and runs counter to the trends around the world where independent office holders champion the cause and provide non litigious review of decisions.  Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia all have variations on the system the Federal government wants to abolish- all seem to be operating reasonably OK.
Finally whether the changes will produce the claimed savings of $10 million over four years is uncertain to say the least.That the public are the losers isn't I'm afraid.

A few other thought starters from last week:

The debate in the House.

A rerun of earlier analysis. 

And this from Emeritus Professor Richard Mulgan in The Canberra Times in June.

You can contact the committee secretariat on 02 6277 3560 or via email to


  1. Thank you Peter for bringing this vital piece of information to my attention. I was not aware of the tight deadline for submissions, and would not have been able to make it without your heads-up. I have just sent off a short submission opposing the Bill, and we can only hope that sanity will prevail.

  2. Thanks Megan, Comment from very experienced people such as you is necesssary if we are to avoid further back sliding on open transparent and accountable government.