FOI in Australia: Federal government launches review

The federal Government of Australia has launched a review of its Freedom of Information laws and was immediately criticised for not going far enough. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the review had been called partly in response to the media industry's Right to Know campaign, which has been highlighting restrictions on the free flow of information.

But the limited terms of reference were criticised by the Right to Know campaign, Freedom of Information experts, the governments of Queensland and Victoria and the federal Opposition.

Queensland and Victoria have recently moved to liberalise their FOI laws so more government information can be made public. Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said yesterday his state would never undermine those reforms in order to "revert to the lowest common denominator federal regime". He said the federal Government regularly used "conclusive certificates" to withhold documents.

News Limited chairman and chief executive John Hartigan, a leading player in the campaign, said the review was "close to a pre-election whitewash by the Attorney-General" and was unlikely to deal with the big issues. "They talk about the impact of new technology. They talk about the legitimate interests of government to keep secrets," Mr Hartigan said. "Nowhere do (they) talk about the legitimate rights of Australians to know how they are governed. Nowhere do they talk about the public's right to know what is going on and whether the existing laws are upholding those rights or allowing them to be abused."

FOI review 'will change nothing' (The Australian, 25 September 2007)