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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Will government succeed and abolish OAIC or the ALP, Greens and a coalition of common sense prevail?

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Report (pdf) on the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill tabled yesterday is unfortunately predictable, in line with other recent Senate committee reports on contentious government legislation.

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.

The Bill comes on for debate in the Senate on Thursday 27 November. 
With Labor and The Greens opposed, its fate is in the crossbenchers' hands. The Government needs the support of six of eight.

I spoke to their offices in the last two days-except that of Senator Muir where no one answered the phone.

In all cases they were interested in what I had to say: that the legislation is retrograde not beneficial and if passed will be a giant step backwards for the open, transparent and accountable government cause when excessive and unnecessary secrecy is painfully evident.

If you feel similarly, I urge you to contact any or all of the following today:
Ring- simply say you wish to talk to someone there about the freedom of information bill currently before the Senate, and make as few or many points as you wish.
Tweet: hashtags #OAIC. #Auspol #FOI
Senator Day
(02) 6277 3373
twitter @senatorbobday
Senator Madigan
(02) 6277 3471
twitter @SenJJMadigan
Senator Xenophon
(02) 6277 3552
twitter @Nick_Xenophon
Senator Leonhjelm
(02) 6277 3054
twitter @DavidLeonhjelm
Senator Lazarus
(02) 6277 3204
Senator Wang
(02) 6277 3843
Senator Muir
(02) 6277 3040
Senator Lambie
(02) 6277 3063

      Who knows- common sense anyone?

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