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Sunday, June 18, 2006

FOI in the news

Stories based on FOI in the media this week include:

ABC Online 9 June: “FOI cases wasting taxpayers’ money” - The Victorian Opposition has accused the Government of wasting taxpayers' money by trying to stop it getting access to politically sensitive documents under Freedom of Information (FOI).The Opposition has 10 cases before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), relating to FOI requests that have been denied. It says that in one case alone, the Government has spent more than $38,000 on lawyers for a one-day hearing. Premier Bracks has defended the Government’s record.

Herald Sun 9 June: “$500m loan was on the cards” – the Victorian Government considered borrowing $500m to pay for its transport smartcard project before deciding to fund the project itself.

Canberra Times 10 June: “Blunder over ACT land” – Economist Brendan O’Reilly says ACT taxpayers have lost $100 million in land sale revenue because successive territory governments have sold 99-year leases on rural land for a fraction of their true value.

The Age 11 June: “Cash strapped hospital tried to put off tax bill: State bails out Royal Children’s” -The Victorian Government has been forced to rescue the Royal Children's Hospital from a cash crisis, which at one stage was so dire that the hospital had stalled paying the tax withheld from employee wages.

Herald Sun 12 June: “Police car crashes cost us $1m” - Victorian Police Force wrote off 21 cars and incurred a $1.7m damage bill in on-the-job accidents in a year. 95 speeding tickets were issued to Police in the same period.

Daily Telegraph 12 June: “Fat cats enjoy cream of sport” – The NSW state owned corporation Energy Australia has paid $700,000 for a corporate box at Telstra Stadium over the last three and a half years. 437 people used the box on 22 occasions – 372 were Energy Australia workers.

The Age 12 June: “Ambulance legal bills reach $1m” – Victoria’s country ambulance service is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers' funds fighting legal battles against paramedics who claim they have been harassed, bullied or mistreated.

Canberra Times 13 June:
“Bid to beat parking ticket lost” - The system under which parking infringement notices are withdrawn if a good excuse is raised would collapse if a Canberra man was granted access to guidelines on the subject, government officials have successfully argued.. After receiving a parking ticket, Tony Pintori appealed to Urban Services but was told his case did not fit within the guidelines. Using the Freedom of Information Act, he asked for a copy of the guidelines but was refused.

“Health chief’s “departure” questioned” - Officials must reveal the reasons behind the sudden departure of one of the region's senior health bureaucrats, the NSW Opposition has demanded.. . NSW Opposition health spokeswoman...Mrs Skinner said documents obtained under freedom of information showed the service had more than $8.5 million in overdue accounts at the end of last year.

Australian Financial Review 16 June: "Ombudsman warns on FOI compliance" - The Federal Ombudsman told an ACT Institute of Public Administration seminar that he will audit agency head committment to the FOIA. He said they should be as dedicated to uniform compliance with democratic integrity laws as those dealing with financial reporting and contract procurement. A spokeswoman for the Federal Attorney General is quoted as saying that "Mr. Ruddock was comfortable with agencies' compliance with the FOI Act".

Federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis also spoke on "Open Government: Reality or Rhetoric" at the seminar.

Sydney Morning Herald 17 June: "Deaf or just dumb" - In his weekly “What they won’t tell you” column, FOI Editor Matthew Moore recounts his experience in seeking a public interest rebate from a Commonwealth Government agency that estimated costs of dealing with an application for some economic modelling documents to be in excess of $13,000. The agency isn’t convinced that releasing documents to a newspaper will result in the public being informed about their content.

Sunday Telegraph 18 June: “Doctors not paid for years” - Some doctors are waiting up to two years to be paid by cash-strapped NSW hospitals, while other surgeons are operating for free. Area health services owed more than $65 million in overdue accounts by the end of last year.

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