Things were off to a promising start when the Prime Minister took ministerial responsibility for public data policy, Gov 2.0 and related matters, and appointed a Minister Assisting for Digital Transformation. We have been talking seriously since about freeing up access to government data sets to promote economic and social development, with an occasional reference to how more, better published government data could improve transparency and accountability as well.
The Productivity Commission has been asked to undertake a12-month public inquiry to investigate ways to improve the availability and use of public and private sector data.
As Gov 2.0 is “the use of technology to encourage a more open, transparent and engaging form of government, where the public has a greater role in forming policy and has improved access to government information" the intersection with Freedom of Information and the Office of Australian Information Commissioner is obvious.
Responsibility for those areas remains with the Attorney General. To date there are no encouraging indications of new directions there.
Thirty (Correction: 18) months after Attorney General Brandis introduced the bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner into the Senate, a bill never brought of for debate because there is no majority in favour, the bill has disappeared only because parliament was prorogued on 15 April and no move was made on the two sitting days since to reintroduce it. That may be the end of this drawn out saga but so far the Attorney General isn’t saying.
The statutory review of the Freedom of information Act completed by Dr Allan Hawke in early 2013 has hardly been mentioned since the Coalition government was elected. Hawke recommended a comprehensive review of the kind he was unable to undertake.
Senior public service leaders continue to talk down right to information with no hint that ministers bring them into line. Public Service Commissioner Lloyd when quizzed in a Senate Committee hearing in February on his “very pernicious” remark replied "My view is that the FOI laws have extended beyond perhaps what I understood to be the original intention, which was particularly to allow our citizens to have access to information about their affairs that governments were holding…”