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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 2835


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (1:43 PM) —I thank the opposition, the Greens and Senators Xenophon and Fielding for their support for early passage of this legislation through the Senate, and I also thank those senators who participated in the inquiry by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee.

The Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2010, together with the Australian Information Commissioner Bill 2010 is, after all, concerned with significantly enhancing openness in government. The Rudd government has undertaken the first overhaul of the FOI Act since it was enacted in 1982, nearly 30 years ago. The passage of the FOI Act was a milestone for Australia. The Rudd government continues to recognise that we are responsible and accountable to the people we serve. For this reason, when we were in opposition we committed to overhauling the FOI Act and we have delivered on this promise. This legislation expressly recognises that giving the Australian community access to government-held information strengthens Australia’s representative democracy, recognises the role that this object serves to increase public participation in government processes and increases accountability in the government’s activities.

The Australian Information Commissioner Bill will also establish the first independent model to oversight FOI administration. Many of the reforms within that model, which provide for a framework for agency driven proactive publication of government information together with the single public interest test, are contained within these two bills, but this does not mark the end of the government’s commitment to ensuring an effective FOI regime and that the amended FOI Act meets the government’s object of enhancing openness provisions made in the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 and in the Australian Information Commissioner Bill. A full review will be undertaken of the operation of the legislation two years from the commencement of the reform measures. These bills comprise the strongest package of measures to enhance public access to government-held information that this chamber has seen in nearly 30 years.

In foreshadowing an issue that the Greens have raised in relation to the review which I just mentioned, I have included a statement in the second reading speech in order to address the concerns raised by the Australian Greens. The review will also need to include a consideration of whether the exclusion of agencies, including intelligence agencies, from the application of the act is still appropriate and necessary. Naturally such a consideration would require reference to international practice and consideration of what is in Australia’s public interest. The government would be opposed to the first foreshadowed amendment. We think that second part, both in the second reading statement and with my statement on Hansard, goes some way to addressing the Greens issue. I know it does not go all the way, but I accept that this is a matter that the Greens take very seriously. In this instance, the government’s position is quite clear. We have articulated that we have got to what we consider to be an appropriate balance in this legislation.

Finally, the establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner underpins the government’s objective to revitalise the FOI Act and also lays a stronger foundation for privacy protection and improvements in the broader management of government information.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.