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Friday, April 25, 2008

Action needed to match Canberra's FOI rhetoric with applicant's reality

In an article today in the Sydney Morning Herald, I comment on a recent decision in the Federal Administrative Appeals Tribunal, upholding an exemption claim under the Freedom of Information Act for a four year old report on a major policy initiative by a working group of senior public servants, and how this sits uncomfortably alongside the mood of the 2020 Summit "for a more vibrant democracy through increased public participation in the operation of our democratic institutions, and more open, accountable government." It concludes

"If the Rudd Government is interested in encouraging greater public participation in government decision-making, it needs to do something about an act that accommodates such decisions, and about the attitudes to disclosure by agencies such as Treasury inclined to grab onto an exemption claim just because they can."

Rick Snell in The Australian also comments about Canberra's FOI record:

"Five months have now passed since the federal election. In that period the federal Government has made all the right noises, a few important symbolic changes and delivered the right rhetoric but appears to have changed little in the way of actual practice of FOI at the commonwealth level.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has sought new terms of reference to carry out a full scale review of federal FOI legislation and practice. Yet surprisingly for a government keen to announce an inquiry at almost every press conference, the ALRC has been kept spinning its wheels waiting a response.

In November or December last year, Rudd should have said in his best pragmatic Queensland voice, "Go for it".

There was much talk at the 2020 Summit of the need for collaborative government. Yet such collaboration requires the two-way flow of information between governments and citizens bereft of spin and the willingness to modify proposals or admit to error and oversight in policy development.

This two-way flow of information can and should work without FOI. However, FOI is needed to ensure that it happens not just for the easy problems but also for the most contentious and difficult issues."

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