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Thursday, November 14, 2019

The state of FOI is no joke

We are far better off with freedom of information legislation than we were without it (37 years ago).  FOI delivers often ( recent examples: Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price charged taxpayers $77,254 for a recent week-long visit to Europe; serious complaints about mistreatment and abuse of children with a disability) but often not and often then only after pettifogging, long delays and battles that are costly all round.

What's wrong?

The Federal law is out of date and out of line with emerging best practice, the culture issue of excessive secrecy has never been properly addressed, champions, defenders, advocates within government have been few and far between, the information access function of responding to requests for information in many agencies is under resourced but the spin factories cope well, thank you very much, and independent oversight is underweight with three (Correction one) commissioner when parliament legislated three struggling to manage the workload and just now in 2019 on its third own motion investigation of what's going on (at Home Affairs) since 2010.

Frequent users know all this-below just some of the observations in recent months about the state of affairs as media organisations join the fray with their Right to Know Press Freedom campaign -after a long hiatus.

Government silence

But the minister responsible overall, Attorney General Christian Porter is silent and has been sitting on recommendations (never sighted publicly) from his department since March 2018 on next steps beyond a bit of a chat with interested parties two years ago about implementation of a commitment in December 2016 to ensure information laws, policies and practices are fit for the twenty first century. Progress on implementation is officially 'Delayed'-a relief at least to those of us thinking 'Ditched' might be more apt.

Reform delayed or ditched?

Meanwhile Attorney General's tells us (Milestone 5) work is underway "on improving guidance material to raise awareness of existing online information about archives and FOI and explore options to better assist users to navigate FOI and archives processes. This work has been delayed but both agencies are working to develop a new information access and education resource by May 2020 in time for 'Information Awareness Month.’

Is that all there is?

The right to know what government knows unless not knowing is in the best interests of all of us is a cornerstone of democracy.

What those outside government who take a close interest say about this state of affairs.
A sample.