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(vii) to provide that there is no conclusive presumption of overriding public interest against disclosure of a spent conviction to the person convicted, and (viii) to clarify when an agency is required to consider whether to waive legal professional privilege in connection with an access application, and (ix) to make certain other minor amendments, amendments in the nature of statute law revision and amendments that provide for savings and transitional matters.

Victoria On February 29, the Victorian Legislative Council passed the Freedom of Information Amendment (Freedom of Information Commissioner) Bill 2011. Announcing the legislation in December 2011, the minister responsible for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission, Andrew McIntosh, said this was the most significant change to Victoria’s Freedom of Information laws since their introduction almost 30 years ago. “With this Bill, we are fulfilling one of the Coalition’s key election promises,” he said. “For the first time, Victorians will have access to an independent umpire if they are dissatisfied with the initial result of a Freedom of Information application.” The Bill provides for the appointment of a Freedom of Information commissioner responsible for reviewing FoI decisions, considering complaints relating to FoI and monitoring professional standards. The FoI commissioner will be an independent officer of parliament, appointed by the governor in council, and must report to parliament annually through a new joint parliamentary committee, the Accountability and Oversight Committee, also established by this Bill. The FoI commissioner will assume responsibility for reviews of FoI decisions, substantially replacing the first stage reviews currently conducted internally by agencies. Currently, the government department or agency that decides whether to release information to an applicant is also responsible for reviewing that decision. The Bill also empowers the FoI commissioner to accept and investigate complaints about FoI administration, to monitor FoI standards, and to advise and educate agencies about FoI generally. The Labor opposition criticised the Bill, saying the legislation does not allow the commissioner to overturn decisions by a minister or agency chief and that the commissioner would be powerless to examine if a decision to reject a request because the documents might reveal national security or Cabinet secrets was genuine.19 Melbourne’s Herald Sun was also strongly critical of the Bill, calling it “a joke” in its leader column.20 “The commissioner will have no jurisdiction over ministers or their officers. Given that Premier Ted Baillieu has installed in his office a Freedom of Information adviser, Don Coulson, who personally drags in requests that could be embarrassing, this means the government will actually be less transparent, not more.”

South Australia South Australia has been described as “one of the laggards” in FoI reform, relying as it does on 20-year-old legislation which was criticised by SA Greens MLC Mark Parnell as “an unwieldy, expensive, cumbersome system, that is designed to prevent rather than facilitate access to documents.”21 SA’s ombudsman, Richard Bingham, who is empowered to review FoI decisions, reported a 27 per cent increase in FoI applications from MPs and noted that this increase had meant government agencies often failed to process them in the required timeframe. He noted: “an ongoing issue is that agencies still often provide inadequate reasoning for refusing access to documents. There is a tendency amongst some agencies to look for the exemption provisions first, rather than the objects of the Act.” Family First MP Robert Brokenshire, who has been a prolific user of FoI legislation, plans to introduce a FoI (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill which would make it invalid to refuse access to documents because they might embarrass the government, or result in a loss of confidence in government, or could arguably be “misinterpreted”. The proposed legislation would also protect FoI officers’ independence by guarding them from being directed by ministers and would aim to prevent ministerial interference with FoI requests.

Australian Capital Territory Plans by the ACT chief minister, Katy Gallagher, to reform the ACT legislation to bring it more into line with the Commonwealth FoI laws stalled when the Bill was halted in the Legislative Assembly last December. The Greens and the Liberal opposition argued that debate should be adjourned because there had not been time for a proper debate and they were unwilling to rush through unsatisfactory legislation.


2012 Press Freedom Report  

The Annual Media Alliance summary of press freedom issues in Australia