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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Union interest in FOI sparked by government plan to abolish office of information commissioner.

Tony Sheldon of the Transport Workers Union in an op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday mainly responded to an editorial that criticised the union over FOI applications seeking access to ministerial travel costs. But he also rightly labelled the government attempt to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner "a blatant attack on the right to information now enjoyed by Australians."

My Letter to the Editor apparently hasn't made the cut, but for your edification:
Tony Sheldon ("FOI follies prove that the powerful hate disclosure" December 22) was on the money pointing out the folly in the government plan to abolish the Office Of Australian Information Commissioner.

Apart from shifting review of decisions to refuse access from the OAIC where it is free to the tribunal which will cost $861 as flag fall without a concession, the government would wipe entirely the role of the commissioner as the independent monitor, advocate and champion of open transparent and accountable government. On that journey we have a long way to go despite 30 years of trying to move in the right direction, boosted to a degree by the 2010 reforms that created the office that the government plans to abolish. The law reform commission had identified this as an impediment as long ago as 1995.

The commonwealth model that faces the chop is similar to that in place in Queensland, NSW Victoria, and Western Australia where no one is talking like this, and accords with international good practice, something the government ascribed to at the G 20 in Brisbane.

The government announced these plans in the budget in May, introduced the bill in October, but did not bring it on to a vote in the Senate because Labor, the greens and most if not all the cross benchers intended to vote against it, but by which time most FOI staff had left and the Canberra office closed.

It should use the break to consider how to improve the system. The first step is to adequately resource the office to provide immediate relief to that poor commissioner working alone at home.

Peter Timmins.

Potts Point 2011
Quite a few comments online include some that take issue with the union spending time and energy on FOI.

Interestingly the union movement was a strong advocate in the seventies for the introduction of an FOI act and part of the Freedom of Information Legislation Campaign Committee that pushed the issue along in those days.

Unfortunately the unions and business have played virtually no role since in the public discussion and debate about open transparent and accountable government. 

The bipartisan campaign for good government could do with a hand.

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