Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Australia guts freedom of information

Australia announced its budget last night, and it appears to have been a horror-show of ideological cuts across the board. One of the victims? Freedom of information:

Australia’s privacy and freedom of information watchdog will be effectively abolished and have its core functions distributed to different agencies in a series of changes proposed in the budget.


The role of privacy commissioner will be moved to a position within the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Commonwealth ombudsman will handle complaints about freedom of information requests, as occurred before 2009.

Reviews of the merits of freedom of information requests were previously available free of charge through the freedom of information commissioner, but this will be moved back to the administrative appeals tribunal, which is likely to impose a charge of more than $800.

When reviews of FOIA decisions cost $800, they will effectively be put beyond the reach of most requesters. And without them, there's no real incentive for agencies to follow the law. Instead they can unlawfully withhold information, secure in the knowledge that no-one will be able to afford to challenge them. The result will be to effectively make Australia's Freedom of Information Act (even more of) a dead letter.

Agencies will be very happy. Citizens shouldn't be. Freedom of information is a vital check on government and a means to hold them to account. And the government has just thrown that away to save a paltry A$10 million. You'd almost think they have something to hide...