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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Press Council awards 2017 Press Freedom Medals

Media Release  APC 19 May 2017.

"The Australian Press Council has awarded its Press Freedom Medal to two outstanding individuals for their major contributions to ensuring a free and open society:
Peter Timmins - Australian Open Government Partnership Network
and Michael Cameron - News Corp Australia.

The 2017 Press Freedom Medals were awarded at a special ceremony in Sydney on 19 May. As well as members of the Press Council, journalists and guests from a variety of organisations attended.

Peter Timmins is a well-known advocate of improved standards of transparency and accountability and Australia's leading expert on Freedom of Information (FOI) policy and privacy, as well as being a leader of the Australian Open Government Partnership Network and publisher of the Open and Shut blog.

Michael Cameron is the National Editorial Counsel for News Corp Australia. He leads an in-house legal team, which he established, whose members have appeared in dozens of matters involving challenges to suppression orders, injunctions, defamation actions and so on, advocating for transparency and open justice.

"The purpose of the Australian Press Council is to promote responsible journalism to inform the Australian public and support effective democratic institutions. This year's winners have been exemplary in their tireless pursuit of the critical principle that citizens have a right to know, and so governments, and other important public and private institutions, must operate in an open and transparent manner," said Chair Professor David Weisbrot.

"Although the Press Council did not set off with this intention, this year's Press Freedom Medal winners prove the point that free speech and press freedom are not only reliant on brave and capable editors and journalists, but also on lawyers, activists and others who fight to preserve and extend these freedoms."

Michael Cameron said: "I'm honoured to accept this award on behalf of the editorial legal team at News Corp Australia, whose tireless work enables the publication of articles that would be otherwise be barred by our unduly secretive courts system and plaintiff-friendly defamation laws. Special thanks goes to Larina Mullins, our senior litigation counsel, who has appeared at close to 100 suppression hearings in the last three years."

Peter Timmins said: "This is a great but unexpected honour, a tribute to the many individuals and organisations including the Press Council that believe strongly in open, transparent and accountable government and joined the network to seek to ensure the government lives up to its Open Government Partnership commitments. Pursuing reform to improve our democracy is a never-ending journey."

The Press Council has awarded Press Freedom Medals in earlier years, but it was reserved for people affiliated with the organisation. It was decided last year to revitalise the award and open it up to people who, through their work as journalists, legal practitioners, community activists or advocates, help ensure the preservation of free speech, press freedom and open and transparent government.

In May 2016, Kate McClymont of Fairfax Media and Paul Maley of News Corp Australia received the first of the medals awarded under the new criteria, to great acclaim.
Read the award citations here."


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mark Colvin, thanks and farewell

Vale Mark Colvin, a great sense of sadness at his death.

I met him once. when he looked like this.

In the 1980s he interviewed me for a Four Corners program on the Freedom of Information Act, whether it was working or not.

All the footage of that interview ended up on the cutting room floor.

I never held it against him.

Probably great editorial judgment about what to leave out of the program that went to air!

But what a wonderful companion by remote for years particularly for the last 20 at 6pm during dinner preparation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Budget 2017: No boost in funding for Australian Information Commissioner.

The appropriation for the Office of Australian Information Commissioner in the 2017-18 Budget is $10.368 million, down from $10.618 million. (An 'efficiency dividend' counts for a reduction of $160,000.) Total funds available in 2017-18 (counting funding available from previous years and other revenue): $19.345 million compared to $19.045 million in 2016-17. 

The average staffing level, 75 is unchanged.

In the three 'out years' appropriations drop to $10.265 million, $8.999 million and $9.042 million.

For outcomes measurement purposes the office functions are lumped together in  a single outcome in the Portfolio Budget Statement with budgeted expenses at $14.4 million ($14.988 million in the current year) for
"Provision of public access to Commonwealth Government information, protection of individuals’ personal information, and performance of information commissioner, freedom of information and privacy functions."
The office has extra responsibilities coming in February 2018 when mandatory data breach notification requirements will extend to all entities covered by the Privacy Act. Currently notifications are voluntary other than where My Health Records and eHealth are concerned.

As in previous years you have to wonder about performance measures (pp 251-252) that set 12 months as the target for dealing with some matters. For example

Handling privacy complaints
80% of privacy complaints are finalised within 12 months (on track to meet target).


Provide a timely and effective Information Commissioner review function
80% of Information Commissioner reviews are completed within 12 months (on track to meet target).
Handling FOI complaints

Providing an Information Commissioner review function

Handling FOI complaints

80% of FOI complaints are finalised within 12 months (on track to meet target).

80% of Information Commissioner reviews are completed within 12 months.
80% of FOI complaints are finalised within 12 months.

Who measures what here?
Promoting awareness and understanding of .. information access rights in the community

FOI education and information products meet stakeholder needs (on track to meet target).

Some targets may not be met:
Handling voluntary and mandatory data breach notifications (DBNs)
80% of DBNs are handled or escalated to CII within 60 days (on track to meet target).
80% of eHealth DBNs are handled or escalated to CII within 60 days (not on track to meet target)

Conducting assessments
The median time for the completion of assessments is six months (not on track to meet target).

Providing a public information service
100% of enquiries are finalised within 10 days (not on track to meet target).

Own motion FOI investigations get a mention in the performance measures table which may mean something is in the works:

Conducting FOI Commissioner-initiated investigations
80% of FOI CIIs are finalised within eight months.

Two investigation reports have been published since the office was established in 2010, one in 2012, the most recent in 2014.