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Monday, November 30, 2015

Government senators claim strong FOI record-don't mention the bill to abolish the Australian Information Commissioner

Debate in the Senate on Senator Ludwig's Private Member's Bill the Freedom of Information Amendment (Requests and Reasons) Bill 2015 resumed for an hour last Thursday and the bill is in the list again for 3 December. 

Speakers didn't add much to what was said in June, except that Senator Xenophon was the first cross bencher to speak in support. 

Government senators spoke in opposition to the bill so it won't get far in the House even if Labor, The Greens and six of eight cross benchers manage to get it through the Senate. 

Senator Seselja and Liberal and National Party speakers rolled out this sort of stuff before getting into the detail
I, along with the coalition government, support the Freedom of Information Act and support transparency in government. It is one of our country's greatest strengths that we ensure the decisions of government are put under scrutiny and, where possible, are out in the open. This government has a strong record over the last two years of making the small improvements to regulations and legislation necessary to make the operations of government simpler and more transparent
"Strong record", "small improvements", "regulations and legislation" ???? I'm struggling to remember chapter and verse.

None mentioned or sought to explain how the bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner and the squeeze on funding while it sits (14 months and counting) in the Senate list squares with these fine sentiments.

Labor speakers and Senator Xenophon didn't miss the opportunity.

While government speakers could have used it to support their claim of serious intent regarding  transparency and accountability, word obviously hadn't reached them that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had announced Australia had recommitted to the Open Government Partnership. 

Senator Xenophon was in the dark as well urging the government:
To be a truly consultative and open government, as the Prime Minister said—and I take him at his word about his desire to do so—embrace the OGP; embrace reform to the FOI laws, such as the bill that Senator Ludwig has put up, which I think will lead to greater transparency and greater efficiency in FOI; and ensure there is appropriate funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The bill would require government agencies and Ministers to publish online the exact wording of freedom of information requests and the statement of reasons for the decision to allow or refuse release, and require information in released documents to be available for downloading from the web, a tightening of the current situation.

Attorney General Brandis is yet to speak, but if he gets to his feet to argue against the bill this week before the Senate adjourns for the year, an announcement that the government will pull the plug on the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill would soften some of the criticism of that claimed strong FOI record.

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