Thursday, 29 November 2012
Freedom of Information
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) there is widespread community support for broad freedom of information laws and transparency in government,
(ii) the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 are currently under review,
(iii) the Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, on taking office in September 2010 stated 'we will be held more accountable than ever before, and more than any government in modern memory. We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform, and it's in that spirit that I approach the task of forming a government', and
(iv) the OpenAustralia Foundation has developed a new website 'Right to Know' to improve the ease with which Australians can lodge freedom of information requests and to make the whole request and response process public;
(b) recognises the new 'Right to Know' website;
(c) congratulates the Foundation for its 'Right to Know' initiative which will further improve access to government held information; and
(d) urges the Government to use the site, provide feedback and support the Foundation in its aim of encouraging effective citizen access to government information.
The government is not supporting this motion. Labor is committed to a strong FOI system and transparency of government. In 2009, Labor undertook extensive reforms to make it easier for Australians to apply for personal documents. We removed application fees and abolished conclusive certificates. This year, Labor has asked an independent reviewer to undertake a legislative review of the FOI Act. It is clear from these actions that Labor believes in access to information and transparency; however, the government is unable to commit to using a website that is only being launched today. It may well be a good initiative, but we are not yet in a position to know. We also note that the site is being launched with a hackfest and a reported intention to shame public servants. The government certainly does not support this.
The stated objective is not about shaming public servants. I would urge the government to check with the people involved. It is a very well-respected project to broaden the effectiveness of FOI and could actually be quite informative for our own work in how we present our material publicly on websites. An outcome of the project may reveal delays in the work of departments, but it is certainly not about shaming anybody in any way. It is a constructive project that deserves our support.
Question agreed to.