Monday, January 08, 2018

Freedom of information in the ACT

Last year, the Australian Capital Territory updated its Freedom of Information Act. The new law came into force on the first of January, and besides removing some of the more obnoxious features of Australian FOIA law, it also introduces a new concept of "open access information":

The new laws also introduce an open-access scheme. Open access is a "push model" for providing government information to the public without the need for a formal request. Information that will now be proactively and regularly disclosed includes policy documents, details about agency activities and budgeting, technical and scientific reports prepared for government, information about ministerial and staff travel and hospitality expenses, ministers' diaries including all ministerial appointments and meetings, minutes of meetings and reports of government boards and panels, summaries of cabinet decisions, and the triple-bottom-line assessment for cabinet decisions.


The open-access scheme will greatly benefit the community by allowing people to discover and understand information about government decision-making that they didn't even know existed or realised they were interested in. The community is crying out for more transparency from government and this is a really strong way to improve this, without putting people through the formalities of an FOI request.

There's also a statutory disclosure log scheme, requiring agencies to publish responses to FOIA requests.

Much of this information is routinely proactively published in New Zealand - but not all of it is. And the stuff we do get is purely by grace and favour, and can be redacted however an agency pleases (well... you could use the Ombudsman Act to challenge on reasonableness, and the Ombudsman would probably say that what's reasonable is what's in the OIA, but its difficult to mount a substantive challenge to redactions). We'd benefit both from statutory backing for routine disclosure, and by requiring automatic disclosure of material such as Ministerial diaries, cabinet papers and minutes, and minutes from government boards. At the least, it would help prevent shit like this, where requests for routine, easily found information are obstructed out of sheer bloody-mindedness.