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Governments condemned over FOI restrictions

Governments condemned over FOI restrictions

CLA President Dr Kristine Klugman has slammed proposed changes to Freedom of Information laws in the ACT to further restrict the public’s right to know what its government is up to. Governments, Labor and Liberal, throughout Australia were abusing FOI, and increasingly changing the FOI rules to keep their citizens in the dark, she said. Go to media release.

Media release from CLA Immediate release

Wednesday 7 March 2007

Government undermines people’s right to know

Civil Liberties Australia President, Dr Kris Klugman, said today that the ACT Government was wasting a golden opportunity to improve the ACT’s freedom of information laws and give Canberrans a real right to know what’s being done in their name.

Dr Klugman made her comments in light of amendments to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to be debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly tomorrow (Thursday).

The ACT Government is amending the FOI Act so they can refuse to release information when it’s inconvenient, or when a government department decides copying documents might take up too much of its time.

The amendments follow court proceedings where the government’s attitude to releasing information under FOI has come under attack.

The ACT Government is appealing to the Supreme Court a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, after the AAT rejected an argument that it would be too burdensome for a department to process a request.

Dr Klugman has called on the Government to change the Act to prevent the use of “conclusive certificates” in FOI matters.

“Conclusive certificates mean a department can stop an FOI request dead in its tracks, and suppress information without an effective right of review or appeal. They can, and have been, abused by government departments and ministers.”

Dr Klugman attacked the recent decision of the ACT Education Department to invoke conclusive certificates in relation to an FOI appeal by MLA Vicki Dunne over access to documents about Canberra’s school closures.

The government is asking the AAT to exclude an elected member of the Legislative Assembly, Ms Dunne, from being present whilst evidence is heard in an FOI matter she has taken in relation to Canberra’s school closures.

“This is showing utter contempt for the objectives of the FOI Act, and for the members of the Tribunal…not to mention for a Parliamentarian.

“The Education Department obviously doesn’t trust the Tribunal to make a fair decision, so they have used the underhand tactic of issuing conclusive certificates to effectively end the case and prevent the applicant from having a fair hearing.

“In other words, the parents of the ACT will never know the true facts, statistics and reasons behind the closing of so many schools.

“This is not open government; this is government huddled and hiding behind a wall of repression, in a bunker of silence.

“I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the attitude of many ACT public servants towards FOI. Clearly they don’t believe in the objectives of the FOI Act of making information about the operation of the public service available to the community, and keeping governments accountable for their decisions,” Dr Klugman said.

“It is unacceptable that, instead of complying with the FOI Act, departments are forcing people who make legitimate requests to take legal action to get anything released.

“I call on the ACT Government to educate its public servants on the importance of the FOI Act, and to encourage them to stop frustrating the public’s right to know about the workings of government,” Dr Klugman said.

“And the same applies to the Federal Government. They too are hiding behind Ministerial certificates that only serve to protect Ministers, and to hid the reasons behind government decisions.

“The whole FOI system throughout Australia needs an overhaul. Governments, both Labor and Liberal, are abusing FOI, and keeping their citizens in the dark,” Dr Klugman said.

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