FOI under attack?

The Recordkeeping Roundtable is holding a panel discussion to talk about the current  review of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and the Australian Information Act 2010 (IC Act) which is looking at the ‘extent to which those Acts and related laws continue to provide an effective framework for access to government information.’

Come along to a casual session to talk about the review, raise areas of concern and come up with ideas for submissions. We will post the results of the discussions here after the event.

Speakers:

  • Brendan Molloy is the Secretary of Pirate Party Australia, a software developer and a rum enthusiast. Recent run-ins with the AGD regarding Freedom of Information have further invigorated his interest in this area.
  • Paul Farrell is a freelance journalist who has had work published on PBS Frontline, New Matilda, Crikey, ABC Radio National and ABC Online.  He’s a frequent user of state and federal freedom of information laws, and last year obtained the immigration detention centre contract between Serco and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship which was published on New Matilda.  He also has a background in law. Paul is the author of  the article FOI Review a Blow to Transparency, in New Matilda this week.

Where: Upstairs at The Trinity Hotel, cnr Crown and Devonshire Sts, Surry Hills. The Trinity is a 5-10 minute walk up Devonshire St from Central, or is on the 301 or 303 bus routes from the City. Street parking 1 hr limit only.

When: Tuesday November 20, 6-8pm

Cost: Free

Refreshments: We will have the bar open upstairs and a menu of tasty pub dinners & snacks. The Trinity is not charging us to use the space, so eat / drink up! (it’s nice food, happily)

Twitter: The hashtag for this event will be #foirev

Registration: Not compulsory – you can just rock up, but helps us with room set up. Please go to our event registration page.

About the review

On October 31, The Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced that she had requested former public servant Dr Allan Hawke to conduct a review of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and the Australian Information Act 2010 (IC Act). Once submissions on the Terms of Reference are gathered Dr Hawke will have until April 2013 to prepare a report and recommendations to the Government. Submissions to the review addressing the Terms of Reference are due by Friday, 7 December 2012.

Why does the Government say this review is needed?

The press release issued by the Attorney General pouts the need to cut the costs incurred by Government Departments in complying with FOI requests at the top of the list of reasons for having this review. The Terms of Reference, available in full below, also mention a need to minimise the ‘regulatory and administrative burden, including costs, on government agencies’.  They also propose that there needs to be consideration of a ‘reformulation of the exemptions in the FOI Act, including the application of the new public interest test’, with such a reformulation to address:

(i) the requirement to ensure the legitimate protection of sensitive government documents including Cabinet documents; and

(ii) the necessity for the government to continue to obtain frank and fearless advice from agencies and from third parties who deal with government.

What is concerning about the review?

There are a number of things that we Roundtablers are concerned about with regard to this review:

  • the potential for a revised scheme to place more of a burden of red tape and cost on applicants
  • the proposition that Government needs to be able to be more frank and fearless in secret
  • the watering down of public accountability under the guise of ‘reducing the burden on agencies’
  • the reshaping of FOI within the broader spectrum of government policies and regulatory reforms relating to how information is gathered, accessed or kept secret – by and about government, the private sector and citizens – in particular with the National Security Inquiry and Privacy reforms occurring concurrently to this review,
  • a lack of any mention of changing the stubborn adherence to very paper based ways of characterising records, which has the effect of limiting the scope of FOI, and
  • the very short space of time for submissions to be prepared on this matter of critical importance to a functioning democracy.

REVIEW OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 1982 AND THE AUSTRALIAN INFORMATION COMMISSIONER ACT 2010

TERMS OF REFERENCE

I, Nicola Roxon, Attorney-General of Australia, request Dr Allan Hawke AC to review and report on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 and the extent to which those Acts and related laws continue to provide an effective framework for access to government information.

  1. The review should consider the following matters:

(a) the impact of reforms to freedom of information laws in 2009 and 2010, including the new structures and processes for review of decisions and investigations of complaints under the FOI Act, on the effectiveness of the FOI system;

(b) the effectiveness of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner;

(c) the effectiveness of the new two-tier system of merits review of decisions to refuse access to documents and related matters;

(d) the reformulation of the exemptions in the FOI Act, including the application of the new public interest test, taking into account:

(i) the requirement to ensure the legitimate protection of sensitive government documents including Cabinet documents; and

(ii) the necessity for the government to continue to obtain frank and fearless advice from agencies and from third parties who deal with government;

(e) the appropriateness of the range of agencies covered, either in part or in whole,
by the FOI Act;

(f) the role of fees and charges on FOI, taking into account the recommendations of the Information Commissioner’s review of the current charging regime; and

(g) the desirability of minimising the regulatory and administrative burden, including costs, on government agencies.

  1. The review should include consultation with relevant stakeholders.
  2. The report should be provided by 30 April 2013.

Dated 29 October 2012

Nicola Roxon

Attorney-General

[Authority:  Section 93B of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and section 33 of the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010]

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About Cassie Findlay

Digital archivist and recordkeeping professional, co-founder of the Recordkeeping Roundtable. @CassPF on Twitter.
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3 Responses to FOI under attack?

  1. Pingback: Pirate Party Appeals National Security Legislation Freedom of Information Refusal | Pirate Party Australia

  2. Pingback: Ideas for making submissions to the current Commonwealth Government review of FOI legislation #foirev | Recordkeeping Roundtable

  3. Pingback: November 2012 – Link Roundup

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