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Monday, June 22, 2015

Ludwig bill set for further debate this week, but fate sealed as government senators oppose

The private member's Freedom of Information Amendment (Requests and Reasons) Bill 2015 introduced by Labor Senator Ludwig was debated last week in the Senate for the scheduled 140 minutes, and as time ran out, is now listed for further consideration on 25 June. 

But with the government apparently opposed, the bill won't get through the House even if Labor, and The Greens who plan to support it can do enough with the crossbenchers to get it through the Senate.

Four government senators (no front benchers participated) spoke against the bill. 

Senator Ian McDonald made the only concession from that side of the chamber observing the bill "has good intentions" before citing its defects. Liberal Party Senator Linda Reynolds opined the bill "is yet another example of poorly thought-through policy by those opposite." 

National Party Senator Barry O'Sullivan didn't hold back: Senator Ludwig should know
 "that the government would not support this because it does not need to support it. Why would you go to the trouble of drafting a bill, why would you go to the trouble of taking up the very, very valuable time of this chamber to debate the bill when you know, full well, there is no need for the bill, and it is very unlikely that the government will respond positively to the bill? ....It is a political stunt. It is one that this government will not be trapped with. It is one that this government will not be supporting." 
National Party Senator McGrath demonstrated he had read the bill at least.

All four managed to speak without a mention of the government's stalled bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner but there was plenty of the this "government is committed to being a transparent, accountable and open government" variety. 

Senator O'Sullivan took the prize however and showed he moves in different circles to most of us:
the freedom of information systems that we have around this country are working, and they are working very efficiently..... This has been one of the most open and transparent governments that I have witnessed over my time of political interest of 30-plus year, and I know I participate in the government.
Labor senators Bullock, Alex Gallagher, Brown, O'Neil and Moore painted a different picture.

Senator Bullock said "the attack on the Information Commissioner stands out as an alarming development and one that deserves greater attention."

The Greens Senator Rhiannon likewise, but the senator then went on to describe the bill as "a missed opportunity .. that a Labor senator who has in fact worked in this area has brought forward such a minimal bill," listing 'big picture' issues that require the attention of parliament:
  • changes in the law and regulations to actively promote cultural change within government agencies including further enhancements to Information Publishing Schemes such as mandatory publication of information about agency priorities and finances; lists including agency contracts, grants and appointments; and links to datasets, submissions to other bodies and policies;
  • the need for all agencies to be covered by FOI as a matter of principle including the parliamentary departments and the intelligence agencies;
  • comprehensive accessible searchable information about MPs' entitlements along the lines adopted by the Scottish Parliament.
On this last point the Auditor General pointed out recently in Administration of Travel Entitlements Provided to Parliamentarians:
...independent recommendations for substantive legislative and administrative reform developed to simplify current arrangements and safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth and Parliamentarians, or alternative measures to address recognised fundamental issues with the framework, have not been actioned. As a result, the framework under which Parliamentarians’ non-remuneration entitlements are provided has continued to be complex and opaque...

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