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Monday, June 16, 2008

Solomon Freedom of Information proposals in the news.

John Hartigan Chief Executive and Chairman of News Limited:"Freedom of Information ball is in the Premier's court"( Courier Mail) warmly welcomed the report:
".. it is a historic document that could put Queenslanders at the vanguard of a new form of open government unlike anything else in the country. It has the potential to start a snowball effect that could elevate Australia from its position as one of the worst countries in the Western world for free speech, to one of the best. It is a model for profound, radical and positive reform and, to her credit, one which Bligh welcomed warmly. It could lift a shroud of secrecy from our country which has been eating away at the very notion we call democracy."
Craig Johnstone: Assistant Editor "Winds of accountability blow through FOI corridors" (Courier Mail) canvassed the wide range of reforms under consideration and picks up on a point made here last week that there is nothing to prevent the Queensland Government making an immediate start on the new era through a direction to agencies to err on the side of disclosure. Johnstone also reports the Premier appears to have reservations about extending the law to bodies funded by the government such as private schools and charities.

Matthew Moore FOI Editor :"Bligh bounds ahead" (Sydney Morning Herald):
The logic of Solomon's report reveals the glaring deficiencies in every other FoI law in the country, especially in the Commonwealth act. Kevin Rudd was elected promising to reform the FoI law by scrapping conclusive certificates and appointing an information commissioner. Even those modest promises appear no closer. After events in Queensland this week, Rudd and his cabinet secretary, John Faulkner, have little option other than to deliver more sweeping changes than they envisaged. Either that, or be judged as failures
Rick Snell in "Secrecy obsession keeps us in the dark" in Adelaide's Sunday Mail(no link available) said South Australia risks being left behind in this area:
"The SA Government operates as if the creation of policy frameworks in health, education and transport, etc., are its exclusive property and the Government can therefore decide who is informed, when and under what circumstances. Doctors who are concerned about the health system are denied access to consultant reports. Taxpayers are prevented from seeing an $81,000 report into the quality of hospital food because it could cause ``confusion'' and create "unnecessary debate'' and "mischief''. Plans to replace the Royal Adelaide Hospital with a $1.7 billion project are formulated in secrecy and progressed on a need-to-know basis. Critical experts in the system - doctors, nurses, patients and volunteers - are kept in the dark and sidelined. ...Premier Rann has a clear choice. He can continue to preside over an information management system that has scarcely changed since the horse and buggy days or he can put in place the infrastructure needed to create effective policies for a 21st century information state. State governments can no longer afford to rely on a handful of political servants and secretive consultant reports to generate policies, ideas and solutions."
The editorial in The Age "If you're paying for it you should know about it" comments on the Victorian Government's preference for secrecy regarding the Toyota subsidy, the amount paid from the public purse to host the Australian Grand Prix and more generally regarding "commercial in confidence" provisions in government contracts:
"In all this, the Brumby Government's attitude contrasts dismally with that of the Bligh Government in Queensland, which has accepted, and is expected to implement in large part, a wide-ranging review of freedom of information law by the journalist and barrister David Solomon. Mr Solomon has proposed changes that include allowing public searches of government databases, the release after each cabinet meeting of an edited agenda and non-confidential documents, and simplification of the FoI process.Compare this with the Brumby Government's attempt to further erode this state's FoI laws by extending the response time for FoI applications. That bill was rejected by the Legislative Council, in which neither of the major parties has a majority. Upper-house reform was a fortunate Labor achievement: without it, the present Labor Government would have taken Victoria even further down the path to the secret state."

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