Accountability Round Table is a proponent of strong Freedom of Information provisions at every level of government. We were concerned at the apparent watering down of FOI provisions at the Federal level by amendment to the Freedom of Information Act. The Bill in question was the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014.
On 30 October 2014, the Senate referred the provisions of the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. This Committee reported on 25 November 2014.
Our submission to this committee took an uncompromising position on proposed modifications. In particular it objected to the removal of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). Its opening remarks illustrate this.
“The proponents of this Bill have acknowledged to the Parliament that their intention is to return to the FOI system as it was before the reforms of 2010. Those reforms were introduced because that system had failed. Nothing has been put forward in this Bill to address those problems. Instead, the Bill removes the primary mechanism provided to address that failure by abolishing the Independent Office, the OAIC, and, while retaining a number of the powers that were given to the OAIC to enable it to monitor, guide and advise and promote the Right to Know objectives of the legislation, the Bill gives them to the Executive Government through the Attorney-General of the day. This in particular includes the power to provide guidelines on the application and interpretation of the objects of the legislation. If we remember our history, the lesson to be learnt is that that this will ultimately guarantee the failure of the proposed system.”