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Monday, October 26, 2015

Australian Press Council seeks Government commitment to open and transparent government

"The Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot, called on the Turnbull government today to demonstrate its commitment to open and transparent democracy by immediately providing the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) with sufficient resources to fulfil its mission under existing law.

Professor Weisbrot also called on the government to send a high level delegation to the Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit in Mexico City, to be held on 27-29 October.

“Australia used to be one of the world’s leaders in promoting open government and freedom of information, along with Scandinavian countries,” Prof Weisbrot said. “Now, there appears to be little interest in federal government circles, which is a great shame as these issues are more important than ever.

"These are not only critical issues for all of us as citizens, but they are of particular importance in underpinning the work of the free press, which is reliant upon open access to government information, minimising secrecy laws and encouraging whistleblowers who disclose government or corporate malpractice.

“The lack of commitment to our own OAIC is a very discouraging sign — and with the Global Summit to commence in days, we are still waiting for any sign of interest in that meeting by the Turnbull government or the federal Opposition”

The OAIC has been badly run down in recent years, with a single commissioner (the former Privacy Commissioner) on a short-term contract filling the roles designed by Parliament to be covered by three senior statutory officers.

There was little evidence at the recent Senate Estimates hearings that Attorney-General George Brandis is planning to restore the OAIC’s budgetary and human resources, nor was any alternative strategy canvassed for ensuring that Australia maintains a robust freedom of information system, open government and privacy protection.

Australia made a commitment in May 2013 to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), but has been inactive ever since, while most other nations have been busy designing and implementing government Action Plans in collaboration with civil society organisations, Prof Weisbrot pointed out. The OGP consists of 66 member countries and aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

“Open and transparent government is one of the key foundation stones of liberal democratic government,” Prof Weisbrot said. “Free access to data and documents held by government — with some obvious exceptions for a small amount of information that is security sensitive or otherwise clearly inappropriate for release — is essential for ensuring good policy making and sound administrative decision making, as well as for exposing and preventing corruption”.

For more details, contact Michael Rose, the Press Council’s Director of Research and Communications, on 0451 978 276 or by email at"

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