Thursday, May 05, 2016

Progress on freedom of information in Australia

Imagine if the New Zealand government dealt with pesky OIA requests by trying to abolish the Office of the Ombudsman, then, when it found it did not have a Parliamentary majority for the move, simply defunded them and refused to appoint replacements when the incumbents retired?

That's what Tony Abbott did in Australia to the Australian Information Commissioner. The good news is that now Abbot is out, Turnbull has reversed that move:

An Abbott-era plan to abolish Australia’s privacy and freedom-of-information watchdog has been abandoned in Malcolm Turnbull’s first budget.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has been allocated $37m over four years, a significant reversal of fortunes for an agency the government has spent two years trying to kill.


The new money likely means the FOI commissioner position, currently vacant, and the role of information commissioner, temporarily occupied by Pilgrim, will soon be permanently filled.

But while funding has been (partly) restored, its at a lower level than it was before Abbott's attack, and the office has effectively been crippled by two years of no budget. So, while freedom of information is no longer under a death sentence in Australia, it still seems to be on life support.