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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Parliamentary Budget Office FOI gap

As previously noted the Parliamentary Budget Office was from establishment made exempt from the Freedom of Information Act but eagle eyes have spotted a gap- the act does not  provide a specific exemption for documents relating to requests from the office that may be held by departments and other agencies, and presumably it may be a struggle to apply other available exemptions. 

Attorney General Roxon yesterday in moving the Freedom of Information Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Office) Bill 2012 said:
As a result, requests for information made to agencies by the Parliamentary Budget Office, and information provided to the Parliamentary Budget Office by agencies, may not be as fully protected from release under the Freedom of Information Act as they ought to be to give effect to the Parliamentary Budget Office's special position. In addition, freedom of information requests may be made to agencies for the sole purpose of finding out whether or not the Parliamentary Budget Office has received a confidential request in relation to a particular matter. A response from an agency that documents could not be released because a relevant exemption applied would in effect confirm the existence of the documents and the fact that a confidential request had been made to the Parliamentary Budget Office.
The bill provides an exemption for information held by departments and agencies that relates to a confidential request to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Presumably the Opposition, yet to speak will be all in favour even though they are yet to commit to submitting policies for costing in the run up to an election.

This might have been a convenient opportunity for the Attorney General to also seek to redress the anomaly (her spokesperson's word) that first emerged in June that the three other parliamentary departments are subject to the act, by moving an amendment. Perhaps the failure to do so signals that wise heads on reflection recognise these agencies should be no different to executive government agencies when it comes to accountability and transparency.

Thanks to Open Australia for the Hansard link

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