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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

December start date looming but no sign of Victorian FOI commissioner.

With less than two months until the default commencement date for the Victorian Freedom of Information Amendment (Freedom of Information Commissioner) Act No 6 2012, you might be wondering what's the story? Me too, as there has hardly been a word on the public record since the legislation received assent on 6 March. 

Publicly at least, nothing has happened. No ministerial media releases, no questions in Parliament since this in August received a straight bat response,( Addendum) and these few references in the Budget papers in June.

It's of course not great legislation with significant shortcomings and areas where the bill could have been improved. The Baillieu government wasn't interested in that or the sort of comprehensive changes to the 1983 Victorian Freedom of information Act necessary to bring the law in line with 2012 standards of government accountability and transparency. I rather like my February description: a bandaid for a slerotic artery

However Section 2 (2) of the amendment act states if "a provision of this Act does not come into operation before 1 December 2012, it comes into operation on that day." The answer to the question in Parliament was that it "will be operational once the act is proclaimed' but that seems incorrect.

The amending legislation will from 1 December among other things, establish a new office ready and open for business, set a 30 day turnaround for review by the commissioner of some agency FOI decisions, abolish an FOI applicant's right to internal agency review, establish a complaints system as distinct from the review function, authorise the responsible minister to issue guidelines for FOI processing and (subject to parliament acting) establish a new parliamentary Accountability and Oversight Committee.

Who will do all this, how they will go about it, where they will be located remain mysteries. Preparation? Kapoosh. That answer to a question in August included comment that "recruitment and allocation of staff in the freedom of information (FOI) commissioner's office will, ultimately, be a matter for the FOI commissioner" so once that position is filled it might be rather lonely in the new digs.

In light of the date, last week I sent emails to the responsible minister Attorney-General Robert Clark, and Minister for Corrections and Crime Prevention and Minister responsible for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission Andrew McIntosh who seemed at various times to have some responsibility, asking for information about the FOI commissioner selection process, any appointment, and about office operations from 1 December.

Not a peep-the same response I had to questions in June to the president of the upper house Bruce Atkinson and the speaker of the house Ken Smith about access to information about payments to Victorian parliamentarians. As to that black hole, your guess is as good as mine.

Good luck to Victorians keen to see improvements.

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