[LINK] SMH: 'Information revolution opens door to secrets'
Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Thu Oct 21 13:19:11 EST 2010
Information revolution opens door to secrets
Date: October 21 2010
The Sydney Morning Herald
[Matthew is a longstanding FOI reporter:
Australians will be able to make freedom-of-information requests by
email and without charge from next month under changes set to
revolutionise the 28-year-old law.
The reforms to the federal legislation will also confirm John
McMillan as the Commonwealth's first information commissioner with
the power to order departments to release information sought by
Professor McMillan predicted the changes would ''transform
government'' as departments realised old rules were gone and there
was a new emphasis on ''pro-disclosure''.
He had held meetings with heads of departments and staff to explain
how to adapt to the laws by the time they come into force on November
''I say to them, 'You will have to change the way you do business.
The government expects cultural change. You have to move from
information control to information sharing,''' Professor McMillan
In some agencies senior managers were resistant to the new laws and
still had the mindset that ''we are creating documents to support the
government or for internal purposes''.
That idea was ''erroneous'', the professor said. The new laws state
specifically that ''information held by government is to be managed
for public purposes and is a national resource''.
The new laws simplify many of the exemptions used by governments to
withhold information, while introducing a single public interest test
that is weighted towards disclosure. The test means that access to a
''conditionally exempt document'' can be denied only if access on
balance would be contrary to the public interest.
Professor McMillan has been involved with freedom of information for
nearly 40 years.
There have been many criticisms of how the law has operated since it
was passed by the Fraser government in 1982.
The professor said it had led to a fundamental change in access to
information and had become an ''informal part of the constitution''.
He expected the amended law to deliver a similar level of change. He
supports making compliance with the laws part of the employment
contracts for departmental heads.
As information commissioner, he said he would act as a ''champion''
for those seeking access to information in the public interest.
''[The commissioner] is really an open government champion,'' he
said. ''All you are advocating is better information management in
agencies and a pro-disclosure culture.''
The public can appeal to his office - also without cost - when
applications are denied.
Currently, applicants refused access to information can appeal to the
Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which costs $670. The tribunal deals
with about 140 matters a year.
Professor McMillan expects to deal with three times that number -
which could ''possibly be much higher'' when applicants realise they
have a no-cost appeal option.
Roger Clarke http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd 78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au http://www.xamax.com.au/
Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science Australian National University
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