Thursday, November 07, 2013

Freedom of information goes backwards in Australia

Compared to New Zealand, Australia is relatively backwards on freedom of information, with a dysfunctional Freedom of Information Act. For a while it looked like it was beginning to move towards transparency again. But as with climate change and immigration policy, its now going backwards under Tony Abbott:

Federal government departments are demanding thousands of dollars for access to their briefings to new ministers. The charges are a reversal of policy, with most departments providing briefings free under Labor.

After the 2010 election, at least 17 departments published their incoming government briefs - their initial advice to their new political masters - in response to freedom of information requests. But more than a month after the Abbott government was sworn in, none of its briefs has been released.

Treasury and the Attorney-General's Department, both of which released their 2010 briefs, have refused requests, while the industry and employment departments, which also published their 2010 briefs, have ruled that requests are an unreasonable diversion of their resources.

Others have imposed charges, which must be agreed to before requests are processed. The Defence Department produced an estimate of $2456, which included 121 hours of decision-making time.

This is of course information which would be proactively released as a matter of course (with very few redactions) here in New Zealand.

But its not just about BIMs. Abbott's Ministers don't give press conferences. They demand the media be excluded from conferences where they are speaking. They have shut down routine releases of information from government. This is a more secretive, less open government. Not very 21st century, is it?