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Monday, June 15, 2015

Tasmania to introduce on line publication of 'public interest' RTI documents

Tasmanian Premier Hodgman's announcement of "a new policy to ensure that more Government information is shared with the public" is a welcome development that brings the state into line with the disclosure logs introduced some years back by Federal, Queensland, NSW and ACT governments.

The Premier has "directed all Government agencies to publish Right To Information requests online within 48 hours of them being sent to the applicant," explaining
"(q)uite often it is only journalists or Members of Parliament that ask for, and have access to, Right To Information documents.  Under our changes, every Tasmanian will be able to access that information for themselves. While this is one of the biggest reforms since Right To Information laws were introduced, it brings Tasmania into line with Queensland and the Federal Government. This will only apply to public interest Right To Information requests, not requests for personal information. This policy has the support of the Ombudsman and the Solicitor-General."
It probably won't have the support of journalists.

Media organisations in their joint submission to the Hawke review argued not for the first time for a five days exclusive use period when documents are released to a journalist in response to a Federal government FOI application. At present information is required to be posted within 10 days. Some agencies are said to publish promptly so as to remove the prospect of an exclusive and make the FOI exercise something of a waste of the journalist applicant's time. Others don't publish the documents released instead simply indicating they are available on request.

It seems reasonable to allow some exclusive time with released information in Tasmania and anywhere else. Perhaps any applicant - not just a journalist - should be able to ask for a few days exclusive use at the time of making the request, with that elective to bind the agency?

More broadly six years after the introduction of the RTI act the Tasmanian government shouldn't leave reform at this. 

I'm sure that things aren't as good as suggested in the Annual report 2013-14 (pdf) from Department of Justice on the administration of the act, that a drop of 100 in RTI formal requests for the second year in a row can be attributed to how well the proactive release of information is working.

As to what goes on that front, no decisions by the Ombudsman since 2012 have been published on the website

The Ombudsman Annual report  (pdf) (pages 22-26) draws attention to underfunding and the impact on the RTI review function, a point picked up by The Greens Nick McKim. His colleague Cassy O'Connor argues the Premier's interest in the subject is empty rhetoric given agency responses to RTI applications.
sounds like empty rhetoric when you actually look at the Right to Information decisions coming back from Departments. - See more at:

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