Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Saving freedom of information in Australia

Earlier this year the Australian government decided to do away with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC) - their equivalent of the Ombudsman for freedom of information appeals - as a cost-saving measure. Rather than being heard by a specialist agency, freedom of information appeals would instead by heard by an administrative tribunal, at a cost of nearly $1000 per complaint. But the government has now been forced to withdraw the bill from the Senate, after it failed to gain the support of Senate crossbenchers.

This is great news, but there's a problem: the OIAC had already prepared to be shut down, and as a result most of its staff have already left. So Australia keeps its watchdog, but the government's attempt to kill it have left it blind and toothless. Which will no doubt please Tony Abbott - his government is the least open in living memory and has been welching on its international open government commitments. A blind and toothless watchdog suits Abbott just fine.