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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The voices keep coming: scrap the bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner!

With no sign of any weakening in the solid Senate majority against, Paul Farrell reports in The Guardian today that Senator Nick Xenophon wrote to Attorney General Brandis this week calling for the bill  to be withdrawn to end the uncertainty surrounding the office.

Former Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan in this interview with Farrell said the uncertainty "can’t continue. it’s very hard to maintain staff morale. It’s very hard to recruit really talented people on an ongoing basis when they don’t know whether the office is going to disappear from one month to the next,” 

Professor McMillan reiterates points made in his piece in The Australian today and singles out the Attorney General's Department and senior public service leaders for special mention:
.. McMillan told the Guardian the decision to scrap the office was a blow to open government. He called for more debate on freedom of information and hit back at claims by senior public officials who said FOI had gone too far. “It’s a great shame that government decided to abolish it,” said McMillan. “It was inevitable that a body like this would encounter issues early on in changing culture, developing efficient procedures, working out the most efficient methods. We had just achieved that ... so all of that experience is lost. “I’ve no doubt it’s all to do with two things; irritation with FOI and that the portfolio department is the attorney general’s department, which never understood information policy, which never understood transformational change on information issues and so found the whole thing an irritant......He also criticised recent comments by treasury secretary John Fraser and the Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd about freedom of information for their recent comments speaking out in opposition to FOI. “I think it’s terrible that the head of treasury and the head of the public service commission feel comfortable in speaking out and saying FOI has gone too far, without having to explain what is meant by it’s gone too far,” he said. “You get all these mists thrown around, about you can’t have frank briefing at senior levels. FOI protects any document that needs protection. The exemptions are quite adequate to protect any document, and the IC review decisions make it plain.”
The following statement by a spokeswoman for the attorney general makes no mention of the bill before the Senate, or any determination to continue the 11 month stalemate - a slight glimmer of a rethink, one hopes:
 “The government is committed to transparent, accountable and open government. The OAIC continues to operate and its privacy functions continue to be funded on an ongoing basis. Additional resources were also provided to the OAIC for the continued exercise of FOI functions in 2015-16.”

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