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Friday, February 29, 2008

Over excitment in Queensland about public records

Queensland Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg photo ABConline

Both the Opposition and the Courier Mail seem to have gone off the deep end in response to a minor legislative change in Queensland that would have the effect of ensuring that documents of a parliamentary secretary are defined as "public records". All this seems to be is rectifying an anomaly in the law. It ensures such records are created and maintained in accordance with the requirements of the State Records Act. This has been the policy guidance for some time anyway given this instruction from the Premier's Department. It looks like the wrong end of the stick to portray this as some sneaky way of locking these documents up under Cabinet confidentiality.

It shouldn't have any negative connotations for freedom of information applications even where there is no specific mention of parliamentary secretaries in the FOI Act Documents held by a parliamentary secretary (who has no independent authority), would be documents to which a minister has an immediate right of access, and would be caught by the definition of 'minister's documents'.

Some jurisdictions (but not Queensland and NSW), have acted to remove any uncertainty. For example a 1994 amendment to the Federal Act includes documents held by a parliamentary secretary as documents held by a minister for the purposes of the FOI Act.

The Queensland legislation could hardly justify the Queensland Leader of the Opposition's comment that "this is the biggest blow that Queenslanders have ever seen to the access of freedom of information.

Trust me on this one - there have been plenty of more noteworthy blows than this to open government in Queensland.

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