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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

FOI (and privacy) a responsibility of the Prime Minister

The new Administrative Arrangements Order that sets out responsibilities of federal government departments, and acts administered by ministers, issued after the appointment of the Rudd Government yesterday, lists privacy and freedom of information as matters for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Prime Minister as the minister responsible for the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act. (See page 33 of the Order PDF 184 KB )

The detail of how this all works out with the Special Minister of State, Senator Faulkner, remains to be seen. What is clear is that it should ensure a new and different perspective is brought to bear.

Both these functions have since inception been part of the Attorney General's portfolio. There is a chance at least that they will now be seen as matters of public management. FOI in particular has suffered in the Federal (and most state) jurisdictions because it has been primarily seen as a matter of administrative law. Lawyers have a role in all this but policy about how to make government more open and accountable and how to create and implement an FOI Act to achieve this purpose shouldn't be dominated by legal advice or lawyer considerations.

In NSW, this was recognised from the start, with Nick Greiner the then Premier, ensuring responsibility for FOI rested with him and his department. It gave FOI a good start, although legal perspectives almost inevitably soon emerged and assumed prime importance pretty quickly. There has also been a failure of leadership ever since to ensure that FOI acheives its objectives.

I'm sure Senator Faulkner recognises the opportunities and dangers in all this.

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