Thursday, 18 March 2021
Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I will make a very short contribution to this bill, the Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. There are a couple of things I would like to say in relation to the drafting. The drafting is such that I don't think it would give any FOI officer the choice to do what Senator Waters is asking, because you can't just choose how you wish to interpret the act. But one resolution may well be that, in the face of an FOI request for a draft, the government or the commissioner might consider simply releasing it administratively. I don't think that's something you can probably commit to at this point in time, but perhaps you can in discussions post the passage of this bill.
There is something I would ask the government for a commitment to in the minister's response. The fact is that this bill, perhaps unintentionally, covers a government submission to the independent review, and the whole principle behind FOI is to give access to government information or information held by government. So I think it would be reasonable for the minister to commit to table in this place any submission made to the independent review, subject of course to the redaction of information that might cause issues from a privacy perspective—things such as names and/or case examples, as an example. I would ask the minister to make a commitment to table any submissions that are made.
Finally, I would like to say that, had I had notice of this bill, perhaps I would have taken the opportunity to amend the bill in a number of different ways. The FOI Act is not working properly. I want to point out a couple of very important points. Right now, we have a situation where, when an FOI goes to the Information Commissioner, it takes between one and two years to get a response. There are a number of reasons why that is the case. One of the reasons is the fact that we don't have an FOI commissioner. We haven't had an FOI commissioner since 2014, and I think that's actually, in some sense, unconstitutional, because the will of the parliament is that there should be. But I won't ask that that be debated. I just point out to the minister that I would really be grateful to engage in discussion over the next few weeks in relation to the fact that we don't have an FOI commissioner. But, if you would at least make a commitment in relation to any submissions the government makes being tabled in this place, you would have my full support for this bill.