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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NSW GI law to replace Freedom of Information

The NSW Government has published on the Department of Premier and Cabinet website most of the 57 submissions received on the (now to be titled) Government Information (Public Access) Bill, together with the (mostly reasonable) Government response to submissions, and has introduced the legislation into State Parliament today, apparently with the intention it will pass through all stages immediately. The Premier has also issued a media release, yet to appear on his website, that $3 million initially and $4million on an ongoing basis has been allocated for the stand alone Office of the Information Commissioner.

The most obvious cause for disappointment is the dismissal of calls ( well at least mine) for the law to apply to the administration of Parliament itself, on grounds that the Presiding Officers don't think much of the idea, it may raise separation of powers issues, and no-one else in Australia so far has taken this step.

Here was what I said in my submission on the subject:
"According to the Budget papers, in 2008-2009 $122 million was allocated to the NSW Parliament for administrative purposes. The Budget Estimates Statement describes the role of Parliamentary Joint Services to “provide support and ancillary services to Members and for the operation of the two Houses and the Parliament House building. These services are finance and payroll, archives, catering, education, Hansard, information technology, library and research, security, printing and building maintenance”. The amount allocated for Members Support was $99.5 million. Types of payments to members or on their behalf are not specifically listed. Presumably wages and allowance payments to members are included. No information is publicly available about the expenditure of any allowance payments. The only reference to entitlements in trends of the last five years was ”increased flexibility to Members in the use of their entitlements”. “Increased accountability and transparency” should be a goal from here on.The Premier’s public statements to Parliament have committed the Government to openness, transparency and accountability. The same standards should apply to Parliament through the application of access to government information laws in the same way the law applies to the Executive Branch and, in respect of administrative functions, to the Judicial Branch of Government. All three branches should be covered by the OGI Act. "
If there are insupperable separation of powers issues, how about the Government proposing that Parliament itself resolve to require publication on the web of details of expenditure on administration by Parliamentary Joint Services, including the payment and expenditure of member entitlements?

I'll have a bit more to say when I see the final version

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