Thursday, 26 November 2015
Freedom of Information Amendment (Requests and Reasons) Bill 2015; Second Reading
I rise this morning to speak on the Freedom of Information Amendment (Requests and Reasons) Bill 2015. This bill amends the Freedom of Information Act 1982, which deals with issues of FOI, to require government agencies and ministers to publish the exact wording of freedom of information requests. The amendment will also require agencies and ministers to publish a statement of reasons concerning the decision to allow or refuse the release of requested documents. The bill has the stated aims of ensuring that transparency and accountability are included within the framework of government decisions concerning freedom of information requests, allowing the public to view requests that have been made and the reasons documents were or were not released, allowing applicants seeking similar documents to build upon previous requests, and reducing duplication of requests.
Furthermore, Senator Ludwig's bill states:
Publishing the reasons for decisions will allow for scrutiny of departmental decisions and open the door to further reform to allow review of requests by parties other than the initial applicant.
Section 11C of the FOI Act currently requires agencies and ministerial officers to maintain an online disclosures log. The disclosure log must either publish information made available in response to an FOI request or provide details of how the public may obtain that information. Senator Ludwig's bill proposes to amend these requirements by removing the option of providing details of how the public may obtain information, requiring the publication of the exact wording of the FOI request and requiring the publication of a statement of reasons concerning the decision to allow or refuse the release of the requested documents.
The government does not support this bill for several reasons. One of them is that there is now going to be a new definition of 'working day'. Item 1 of Senator Ludwig's bill inserts a new definition of 'working day', in the interpretation section of the act, as follows:
working day, in relation to a requirement in a provision of this Act to publish information, means a day that is not:
(a) a Saturday; or
(b) a Sunday; or
(c) a public holiday in the place where the function of publishing the information under the provision is to be performed.
As the term 'working day' is used only in section 11C, it is difficult to see how this will eliminate confusion concerning time frames for publishing information, as is the suggested intent of the amendment.
I could go on and on about why this side of the Senate will not be supporting Senator Ludwig's bill. I know my colleague Senator Johnston has much to add to this debate. I will consider leaving my remarks there, and allowing Senator Johnston to make his contribution. Madam Acting Deputy President Lines, can I just get some clarification? Once I finish speaking, will we be going to Senator Ludwig, as the mover of the bill, to the close the debate?