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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Waterford contrasts Queensland and Canberra on FOI reform

Jack Waterford, editor at large of the Canberra Times and doyen of the journalist's FOI mafia, has given a tick to the fundamental changes to Queensland's Freedom of Information regime suggested in the Solomon review discussion paper.

Waterford contrasts this with Canberra where the Government is "quietly" moving on modest reforms. You can say that again - apart from public commitments to change there hasn't been any public indication of exactly what is going on within the system. The sort of change necessary won't be achieved by simply drafting changes to the legislation, or even appointing a Freedom of Information Commissioner, although both will help. Waterford concludes:
A culture change is now necessary. Twelve years of Howard government paranoia, AFP leak inquiries and witch hunts, and the promotion of the impression by some top public servants that any disclosure of information is a breach of the Crimes Act or public service guidelines have made many public servants gun-shy about discretionary release of information. If Rudd wants a more open service in his new rational and evidence-based paradise, he must not only say so, but show himself relaxed and practice, even when marginally embarrassed. Otherwise a change in the law will mean nothing.
Commendably the PM had no hesitation this week in releasing the Burke emails but if there has been ministerial direction that things should be done differently when dealing with applications for information, we are yet see it in the public domain. Even saying this once won't achieve culture change as that will be an ongoing challenge - see item below.

Thanks to Margo Kingston's webdiary for the Waterford article.

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