It canvasses and reasonably accurately summarises the many issues and concerns raised in some but not all submissions, none of which are countered by information or analysis that supports the government view that the bill is somehow a step forward.
All the evidence and expert opinion from outside government circles is that it is a step in the opposite direction.
But this didn't stop the committee's three government members, two of whom didn't make it to the one hurried public hearing, waving the bill through, recommending only a change to overcome to a degree problems arising from the proposed relocation of the Privacy Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission. Oh and recommending that the government respond to the Hawke review "as soon as possible' and undertake some consultation while they are at it. The Chair Senator Ian Macdonald had been more direct and probably accurate at the hearing when he expressed the personal view it was only about trying to save $10 million over four years and nothing else.
The two Labor and one Green senators in similar dissenting reports recommend a vote to reject the bill, call on the government to fund the OAIC and to undertake a comprehensive review or at least a review the OAIC. They point out:
- Proper process requires comprehensive review first, action second, not the other way round.
- The cost savings are questionable and the measures involve significant cost -shifting to applicants who will now have to pursue an expensive formal appeal process instead of a free and accessible non litigious one. No evidence was received that AAT review would be faster than review by the OAIC-the main plank in the government's case for change.
- No one was consulted beforehand and support for the bill was virtually non existent in more than 30 submissions to the committee.
- The current system of management of FOI and related information policy through an independent information commission is best practice as seen in a global trend in comparable jurisdictions and in four Australian states.
- Oversight of FOI–a system designed to hold executive government to account – will now be led by a core government department, a clear conflict of interest.