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Friday, 9 June 1978
Page: 2693

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Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) - I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Senator Georges - It is not usual for the Senate to allow the Minister presenting a Bill to incorporate his second reading speech but as the Bills are being introduced so that they can be perused during the recess, there will be sufficient time for all of us to read the second reading speeches.

Leave granted.

Senator Durack - I add that it is not usual for the Minister presenting a Bill for the first time to seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech but my reason for so doing is the same as Senator Georges outlined. 77jspeeches read as follows-

Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» 1978

The «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» represents a major initiative by the Government in its program of administrative law reform. It is, in many respects, a unique initiative. Although a number of countries have freedom of information legislation, this is the first occasion on which a Westminster style government has brought forward such a measure. This Bill, together with the Archives Bill, which is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott), will establish for members of the public legally enforceable rights of access to information in documentary form held by Ministers and government agencies except where an overriding interest may require confidentiality to be maintained.

The basic principles of the «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» are simple:

(a)   Government departments and authorities should make their structure and functions known to the public and publish the rules and guidelines they apply in making decisions affecting members of the public;

(b)   members of the public are entitled to access to documents held by government departments and authorities unless there are special reasons for not making those documents public.

Such a right of access cannot, of course, be absolute. Complete openness of government is not possible. For some purposes, confidentiality is essential. It is widely recognised that governments, like individuals, families and business organisations, cannot operate effectively without a certain amount of privacy. The crucial element in drafting the «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» has been to strike the appropriate balance between openness and secrecy. The need for this balance was expressed in the report on the United States «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in the following terms:

At the same time that a broad philosophy of 'freedom of information' is enacted into law, it is necessary to protect certain equally important rights of privacy with respect to certain information in Government files, such as medical and personnel records. It is also necessary for the very operation of our Government to allow it to keep confidential certain material . . . it is not an easy task to balance the opposing interests, but it is not an impossible one either . . success lies in providing a workable formula which encompasses, balances and protects all interests, yet places emphasis on the fullest possible disclosure.

In the present Bill, the Government has tried to achieve that workable formula referred to in the report of the United States Senate Committee.

The Bill establishes the general principle of openness. At the same time, it identifies and defines those circumstances in which the Government considers that confidentiality must be maintained. Thus the Bill contains provisions to protect personal privacy and confidential commercial information, vital national interests such as security and defence, and the conduct of government activities for which confidentiality is essential. But even in these cases the Bill does not prohibit information being made available. The Bill emphasises that Ministers and agencies are free to make information available or to give access to documents in any case where this may properly be done. The statement I have made today on behalf of the Government on access to official information has stressed the Government's intention to make as much information as possible available to the public.

The Westminster system of government, as we know it, is distinguished by a particular relationship between the Executive government and the Parliament. The Executive government of the day bears a responsibility to the Parliament and, through the Parliament to the people, for the proper discharge of the government of the country. Care must therefore be taken in adapting to the Australian system of government legal concepts derived from countries having different systems of government. Thus, for example, the freedom of information legislation in the United States operates in a quite different administrative context. There the Executive government is not directly accountable to the legislature. The Cabinet members are appointed officials under an elected President and are responsible to him. Even the Swedish system of government, which in many respects is more like our own, is nevertheless different in important features.

There is a good deal in common in freedom of information laws in other countries in the kinds of information protected from mandatory disclosure, notwithstanding differences in the constitutional and administrative structures within which those laws operate. The exemption provisions in the present Bill do not therefore represent any special novelty of principle. In essence, as I have indicated, the exclusions are based on the need for confidentiality in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the Bill contains provisions necessary to recognise the particular features of Cabinet government and to give proper weight to the function of Ministers to make decisions relating to fundamental issues of government for which they have ultimate responsibility and to the relationship between Ministers and officials.

In this regard it is significant that Ministers in our system of government, as members of the Parliament, are subject to questioning on matters within their ministerial responsibility both without notice and upon notice by members of the Parliament. By second reading speeches on Bills and by their participation in debates, and by the making of ministerial statements Ministers also give much information about government activity directly to the Parliament. In addition, papers and reports are tabled in the 'Parliament and much informative material is published by the Australian Government Publishing Service. This includes publications such as the Commonwealth Gazette and the Commonwealth Government Directory, which between them give a certain amount of information about the functions and structure of government. In' addition, material is made available by departments and authorities, including the participation by departmental officers in seminars and conferences. The Government has encouraged Ministers and departments to make as much information available to the public as possible, consistent with the requirements of necessary confidentiality.

Existing laws under which information is required to be made available will not be affected by the Bill. These include the tabling in Parliament of reports by statutory authorities, the requirement to produce, subject to Crown privilege, documents before courts and other tribunals, and the giving of evidence before parliamentary committees for example, the Estimates committees of the Senate. In addition, recent legislation requires the giving of full statements of reasons for a decision at the instance of a person aggrieved by the decision.

The «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» operates on a wider scope than any of the existing means of obtaining access to information. Access to information under the Bill will not depend on the person seeking access having to show a special interest in obtaining the information. Lack of a special interest will not be a ground on which information can be withheld. The Bill provides for a legally enforceable right of access to documented information. This represents a radical change of approach. Except in the cases where the disclosure of certain information is compulsory- for example by an order for discovery in legal proceedings- the disclosure of government information is now largely a matter of discretion. The «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» will require Ministers or departments seeking to withhold information to justify their decisions to deny access to information.

The «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» , together with other recent reforms in administrative law, thus emphasises the administrative accountability of Ministers and their departments. In common with that legislation it remains within the concept of a 'Westminster-based' system of government, but forms part of an improved system of judicial and public scrutiny of decisionmaking processes within the government.

So far I have referred to those aspects of the Bill which preserve a proper balance of interest in providing for mandatory access .to information. There is, however, the other aspect to the concept of open government embodied in the Bill. The Bill imposes a positive obligation on departments, and authorities to make public their organisation and structure, and the functions they perform. They are also obliged to make available to their 'clients' the criteria employed in the exercise of decision-making functions, by making available for inspection and purchase copies of manuals, guidelines, instructions and the like. Some of this material is now available, but not in a co-ordinated form, nor is it easy for a member of the public to find it out. The Administrative Arrangements Order specifies the functions of departments in broad terms and some details of.organisation and structure are given in the Commonwealth Government Directory. Some departments have published manuals and the like for the information of those interested, but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

Clause 6 of the Bill requires the responsible Minister of a department or authority to publish a statement setting out particulars of the organisation and functions of the department or authority, including an indication of any decisionmaking powers and other powers affecting members of the public. The clause also requires the publication of a statement of the categories of documents that are maintained in the possession of the agency. The necessary publication must be made within 12 months of the commencement of the clause and must be in a form approved by the Minister administering the freedom of information legislation. After publication, the statements must be up-dated every succeeding 12 months. Publication may be by way of the Commonwealth Government Directory.

Clause 7 requires that copies of documents containing interpretations of enactments or schemes administered by a department and manuals, rules of procedure, records of decisions or similar documents containing rules, guidelines, practices or precedents be made available for inspection and purchase by the public. The clause does not cover material published otherwise than by an agency, for example law reports, nor does it require an agency to publish material published by another agency. The clause also requires that an index be published in the Commonwealth Government Gazette specifying the documents that are available and the place where copies may. be .purchased. These requirements must be fulfilled within 12 months of the commencement of the clause and the index must thereafter be up-dated every succeeding 12 months. . .

Both clauses apply in relation to documents in existence immediately before the commencement of the legislation but do not apply so as to require the disclosure of material that would cause a document to be an exempt document under Part IV of the Bill. There is, however, an obligation on departments to rewrite manuals and the like, if it is practicable to do so, to delete the exempt matter and to publish them in the amended form.

Parts III, IV and V of the Bill are concerned with the right of a person to obtain access to a document in the possession of a Minister or a department or authority. They are based on the principle, as set out in clause 9, that every person has a legally enforceable right to obtain access in accordance with the Act to such documents unless the document concerned is an exempt document. These Parts of the Bill do not, however, provide for access to documents more than 30 years old, to documents open to public access in accordance with other statutory provisions, to documents published for sale to the public or, with certain exceptions, to existing documents already in the possession of agencies when the legislation comes into force.

Two of these exclusions require some explanation. The Archives Bill, which the Government is introducing to regulate the archival collections of the Commonwealth, will deal with rights of access to documents more than 30 years old. Different principles apply to documents that do not directly concern current events and where the requirements of confidentiality are not the same. The other point concerns prior documents. There are those who say that the «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill» should apply to all documents, and not only to those to be brought into existence in the future. To do so would substantially increase the administrative burden and cost of implementing the legislation at a time when the Government is seeking to contain the resources devoted to the Public Service. Clause 10 (2) of the Bill nevertheless provides for access to a prior document where that access is reasonably necessary to a proper understanding of a document to which a person has lawfully had access. Moreover, prior documents may be voluntarily released where this can lawfully be done.

The grounds on which access to a document may be refused are set out in Part IV of the Bill. There is a detailed explanation of these grounds in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated with the Bill to honourable senators. This is the part of the Bill on which most attention is likely to be focused, so I shall explain the principles that have been adopted in drafting it.

As I have said, the Bill provides what the Government believes to be the balance between the public interest served by access to information against the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality necessary for the operation of government and the protection of the commercial confidences and the privacy of those who have dealings with government or about whom information is collected by government. The clauses of the Bill defining the exempt categories of documents are drafted for the most part in terms of the public interest that may be damaged by disclosure of the documents in question. Only in some cases are the exempt documents defined by reference to the nature of the document itself, such as Cabinet and Executive Council documents. lt has always been accepted that a government should be entitled to keep confidential the discussions that take place at the highest levels of government. Of course the tenor of many Cabinet decisions, as well as various Executive Council decisions, are published. The documents which make these decisions publicare not, of course, exempt documents under the Bill.

Except in those cases where a document is in an exempt category by reason of its nature, the Bill requires a decision to refuse access to a document to be made on the balance of publicinterests involved. Thus, for example, a document is not exempt because it relates to CommonwealthState matters; it is exempt only if its disclosure under the Act would prejudice CommonwealthState relations. A document is not exempt merely because it relates to the internal working of a department; to justify refusal, disclosure must cause some detriment to a specified public interest, such as prejudice to the public interest in maintaining the full and frank discussion of issues between officers.

By drafting the Bill in this way, it is intended to emphasise the need to justify any denial of access by reference to a public interest that must, in the particular case, be preferred to the public interest in access to the information in the document. Moreover, where only part of the matter contained in a document is such as to justify a denial of access, the Bill would impose a positive obligation to make a copy of the remainder of the document available if it is practicable to segregate the exempt matter.

In enacting freedom of information legislation within a Westminster-based system of government, the matter of the final authority to decide whether the giving of access would be contrary to the public interest is clearly of central concern. As I have indicated, the Bill embodies what the Government considers to be the proper approach to this question. In .certain matters that touch the fundamental concerns of government the Bill places the final power to decide whether a document should be exempt in the hands of responsible Ministers and the most senior officers of departments and authorities. These are the areas of defence, national security, international relations and Commonwealth-State relations, the relations between Ministers themselves, and between Ministers and their departmental advisers. In all other cases, the question whether a document is in an exempt category and therefore access may be refused may be taken on appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The class of documents that have come to be described as internal working documents is a particularly important class of documents. These are defined in clause 26 of the Bill. They are the documents that are concerned with the deliberative and policy forming processes of government. Documents of this kind are normally protected from production in judicial proceedings by Crown privilege notwithstanding the detriment this may cause to a party to the proceedings. It is well recognised that it would be prejudicial to the free and frank exchange of opinion for many documents of this kind, particularly those at the more senior levels of government, to become publicly available. The neutrality of public service advisers, and the ability of governments of differing political complexions to have confidence in the impartiality of advice given by their public service advisers, would be damaged if officials became identified with particular advice, whether or not that advice was accepted by the Ministers to whom it was given.

The courts have always emphasised the need for confidentiality in these matters. In the case of Conway v. Rimmer Lord Reid said:

I do not doubt that there are certain classes of documents which ought not to be disclosed whatever their content may be. Virtually everyone agrees that Cabinet minutes and the like ought not to be disclosed until such time as they are only of historical interest. But I do not think that many people would give as the reason that premature disclosure would prevent candour in the Cabinet. To my mind the most important reason is that such disclosure would create or fan illinformed or captious public or political criticism. The business of government is difficult enough as it is, and no government could contemplate with equanimity the inner workings of the government machine being exposed to the gaze of (hose ready to criticise without adequate knowledge of the background and perhaps with some axe to grind. And that must, in my view, also apply to all documents concerned with policy making within departments including, it may be, minutes and the like by quite junior officials and correspondence with outside bodies. Further it may be that deliberations about a particular case require protection as much as deliberations about policy. I do not think that it is possible to limit such documents by any definition. But there seems to me to be a wide difference between such documents and routine reports. There may be special reasons for withholding some kinds of routine documents, but I think that the proper test to be applied is to ask, in the language of Lord Simon in Duncan's case, whether the withholding of a document because it belongs to a particular class is really 'necessary for the proper functioning of the public service. '

It is therefore essential that documents of this kind should not be subject to mandatory disclosure. The class of document specified in clause 26 is, however, a wide class, necessarily so to cover many diverse situations, and it is apparent that the disclosure of particular documents falling within the class might not be prejudicial to the public interest: Clause 26 therefore requires a department or authority, when denying access to a document under that clause, to specify the ground of public interest on which access is denied. There is an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on the question whether a document falls within the description given to sub-clause 26(1), but there is no appeal to the Tribunal on the question of public interest.

The matters of business confidentiality and personal privacy have also been of particular concern in drafting the legislation. The Government obtains a good deal of information of a confidential commercial character, much of it on a voluntary basis. It is necessary to the proper working of many departments that they can deal frankly with business organisations on the basis that confidentiality of information will be respected. Accordingly, clauses 32 and 34 of the Bill are intended to ensure that confidentiality can be maintained.

With regard to personal privacy, clause 30 of the Bill provides that access to a document may be refused- other than to the person involved- if disclosure of it would be an unreasonable disclosure of the personal affairs of any person. Where letters written by members of the public to Ministers and departments relate to the personal affairs of the writers, those letters will be exempt documents under the Bill. Clause 30 is to be regarded as an interim solution to this matter, pending consideration of the report on privacy to be made by the Australian Law Reform Commission. When that report is available, the Government will review the provisions of clause 30 of the Bill.

Where only part of a document contains exempt matter, there is an obligation to make available a copy of the document with the exempt matter deleted, if it is practicable to do so. This is provided by clause 20 of the Bill. Moreover, in those cases where the Bill provides for a certificate to be conclusive of the fact that a document is an exempt document, and only a part of the document contains exempt matter, the certificate must identify that part.

I now turn to the agencies to which the Bill applies. Broadly speaking, it applies to all Commonwealth departments, to Commonwealth statutory authorities and to the holders of statutory offices. Provision is made for non-statutory bodies established by the Commonwealth, incorporated companies or associations under the control of the Commonwealth and the holders of non-statutory appointments to be brought within the scope of the Bill by regulation. The Bill does not apply to the parliamentary departments, the Legislative Assemblies of the Australian Capital

Territory and the Northern Territory, royal commissions, the courts or the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and other authorities exercising conciliation and arbitration functions. Provision is made in clause 5 of the Bill for agencies or certain functions of agencies to be excluded from its scope by regulations. The Government will be giving consideration to excluding the business undertakings of the Commonwealth such as the Commonwealth Banking Corporation and the Australian National Airlines Commission. It will also consider in due course whether any other agencies should be excluded.

Ministers and departments are also proceeding to an examination of categories of documents not intended for publication that do not clearly fall within any of the exempt categories under the Bill. These categories include reports on such matters as air and sea traffic accidents, the general register of seamen and documents containing highly confidential commercial information such as those relating to the functions of the Foreign Investment Review Board. Clause 5 of the Bill also provides for agencies to be excluded in respect of documents of any prescribed description. It is contemplated that, where appropriate, regulations might be made under this power to exclude those categories of documents that require special protection from disclosure. In some cases, where the relevant legislation does not now include special provisions restricting or prohibiting disclosure of information, it may be appropriate to amend that legislation. Where secrecy provisions of this kind are included in other legislation, clause 28 of the Bill provides a mechanism by which documents covered by those secrecy provisions may be made exempt documents for the purposes of the Bill. I would remind the Senate that, in any case where an agency or a document is proposed to be excluded by regulation from the scope of the Bill, the exclusion would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and might be disallowed by either House of the Parliament.

The procedures for obtaining access under the Bill involve a minimum of formality. The Bill requires that a decision on a request for access be given as soon as practicable and in any event not more than 60 days after the request is received. It is thought that the imposition of a more rigid time limit would impose undue strains on the administration of departments, and require the diversion of an undue amount of departmental resources to dealing with freedom of information requests. The time limit applies to a request that is identified as being made under the Freedom of Information Act and that is sent to the agency concerned at an address of the agency specified in the regulations. If a request to an agency is not dealt with within the 60 day period, the applicant will be entitled to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as if his request had been denied.

The Bill provides, in clause 37, for a general right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against all decisions refusing the grant of access to a document in accordance with a request. There are, however, some exceptions to the right of appeal. The Tribunal may not review a decision to give a certificate establishing conclusively that a document is an exempt document, nor may it review a decision to refuse access to an internal working document on the ground that disclosure would be contrary to a specified public interest. Except in those cases where a certificate is conclusive evidence that a document is an exempt document, the Tribunal is entitled to inspect the document for itself if extrinsic evidence does not establish that the document is exempt. In all cases the onus of establishing that a document is exempt is on the agency concerned.

A person seeking access to a document is required to supply such information relating to the document as is reasonably necessary to enable the document to be identified. A request for access may not, however, be refused on the ground that the document has not been sufficiently identified unless the agency concerned has first given the applicant a reasonable opportunity to consult the agency to assist him in formulating a request that will sufficiently identify the document he is looking for. I should say that this positive obligation on agencies to assist applicants is a feature of the Australian Bill, not found in the United States legislation.

The Bill thus establishes a system designed to encourage wide access to documentary information. The following characteristics of the Bill are of particular importance:

(a)   the mandatory publication of information about government agencies and the rules, practices and guidelines on which they base their functions or which they use in dealings with the public;

(b)   the establishment of a legally enforceable right of access to all documents held by Ministers and agencies except where those documents are specifically exempted from mandator)' disclosure under the Bill;

(c)   there is no requirement for the applicant to establish any interest in the documents to which access is sought;

(d)   the formal requirements for making requests have been kept to a minimum:

(e)   agencies have a duty to assist applicants in identifying the particular documents they require and to consult with applicants, if necessary, for this purpose;

(f)   where a document is exempt from mandatory disclosure because it contains exempt material a copy of the document must be produced, if practicable, omitting the exempt material and access granted to that copy;

(g)   requests must be answered promptly and, where identified as requests made under the legislation, not later than 60 days after receipt;

(h)   a system of internal review and review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is established, the applicant may also complain to the Ombudsman in cases of undue delay in answering requests.

I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard as an addendum to the second reading speech a list of documents that would ordinarily be made available under the Bill.

Leave granted.

Senator DURACK - The list is not exhaustive; it is intended merely to indicate the range of material that would normally be open to access. In any particular case, a document included in the list may be exempt on special grounds. For example, a technical study relating to a new defence project would remain secret where publication would be prejudicial to defence.

The Government believes that there should be ample opportunity for a full public discussion on the details of the Bill. Accordingly the Bill is introduced at this time with the intention that the debate on it will be resumed during the Budget sittings of the Parliament and that it will be passed this year. As I have indicated, the Government believes that the principles on which the Bill has been drafted are the proper principles on which to base a Freedom of Information Act. The tabling at the end of 1976 of the inter-departmental committee report on the subject has provided an opportunity for public debate on the principles. In drafting the Bill, the Government has taken account of what has been said about that report.

The Government believes that the Bill represents a major step forward in removing unnecessary secrecy from the administrative processes of government. The Government expects that the legislation will be administered in accordance with its policy that as much information as possible should be provided to those seeking it. For example, it would be consistent with that policy that departments receiving legal advice from my Department should be encouraged in consultation with my Department, to make the substance of that advice available where this can be done without disclosing exempt matter that ought properly to remain confidential. Together with the legislation already on the statute book, and the measures announced in my earlier statement to the Senate on access to information, the Bill will advance the Government's intention to make Commonwealth administration more responsive to the public need. I commend the Bill to the Senate. 77te- addendum read as follows-


The following documents are examples of the kinds of documents that would ordinarily be made available to the public under the «Freedom» «of» «Information» «Bill . The Bill would not, however, require mandatory access to be given to any document of the kind mentioned in the following list insofar as it comprised or included exempt matter in a particular case.

(a)   Reports of commissions of inquiry or committees, councils or other bodies established by the Government outside the ordinary departmental structure for the purposes of making inquiries and reports and recommendations to the Government;

(   b ) Reports by valuers:

(c)   Reports of specialist investigatory bodies within the departmental structure, such as the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Bureau of Transport Economics;

(d)   Environmental impact studies;

(e)   Statistical surveys;

(f)   Feasibility and other technical studies relating to proposed Government projects;

(g)   Reports on product tests carried out for the purpose of Government equipment purchasing;

(h)   Studies, surveys, reports and other factual documents compiled by departmental officers in the course of their duties;

(i)   Reports of courts and boards of inquiry, including evidence given before such courts or boards (other than evidence given in camera);

(j)   Correspondence dealing with factual material.

Copyright Amendment Bill 1978

This Bill is consequential upon the Archives Bill 1978. Its purpose is to provide for the Australian Archives to be the depository of certain material under the Copyright Act. The Bill will amend the Copyright Act 1978 to enable broadcasting and television organisations to deposit with the Australian Archives the so-called ephemeral recordings which the Director-General of the Australian Archives certifies as being of exceptional documentary character. The present provisions of the Copyright Act provide for deposit of these recordings with the National Library.

An ephemeral recording is a recordingwhether videotape, cinematograph film or sound recording- made by a radio or television broadcaster for the purposes of broadcasting a copyright work. The Copyright Act entitles a broadcaster, who has a licence to broadcast a copyright work, to make such a recording without further permission, so long as the recording is either destroyed within twelve months, or such longer period as is agreed to, or delivered to the National Library for archival retention. The Berne Copyright Convention requires the destruction of such recordings unless they are preserved in official archives on the ground of their exceptional documentary character. Now that the Archives is to be established on a statutory basis, with rights of access to be defined, it is appropriate that the Archives be entitled to receive this material.

Particulars of all ephemeral recordings received by the Archives will be kept, under the provisions of the Archives Bill, in the Australian National Register of Records established by that Bill. Recordings received from governmentfunded broadcasters will be kept as appropriate in one of the repositories maintained by the Archives around Australia. With the consent of the National Librarian, recordings received from private broadcasters will be lodged by the Archives, under the provisions of the Archives Bill, with the National Library of Australia where they will be kept together with like material deposited by non-governmental bodies. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Archives Bil) 1978

This Bill provides machinery which will improve, in many important respects, the management of the Commonwealth 's own records. The proposed legislation replaces existing ad hoc arrangements and conventions and establishes firm procedures governing the custody, destruction, retention, storage, conservation and public accessibility of this vast mass of record material. A need for reform in this area has long been recognised. Sustained examination of the problems involved began some four or five years ago, and has resulted in a Bill which, I believe, is likely to commend itself to both sides of the House. In undertaking these reforms, the

Government is concerned, in the first instance, with the needs of efficient administration. These require that the origins, development, organisation, functions, activities and methods of Government agencies be adequately recorded and that information safeguarding the rights and entitlements of individuals and organisations be preserved.

With the passage of time, however, this great accumulation of information opens up a vast wealth of research material of vital interest to almost every profession and of great significance in the recorded history of this nation. The Government wishes that, consistent with the claims of national security and individual privacy, this great national resource should be put at the disposal of the public through a network of archival facilities and reference services. Accordingly, the legislation makes detailed and comprehensive provisions for the administration of records of departments and other agencies. It requires, for example, that records be transferred to archival repositories as quickly as possible; that retrieval services be provided; that conservation procedures be available; that proper arrangements be made for public access and that adequate reference services and facilities be provided.

However, the Commonwealth recognises that its own records form only a part of the wide variety of material which records events of both national and local significance and that archival resources, in general, comprise an important part of the national heritage. Therefore, without intruding into the arrangements made by States, institutions or individuals for their own records, the Commonwealth proposes to give to the Australian Archives a limited but significant national role. For example, it is intended that the Archives organisation should be able to lead the way in developing techniques of archives administration. It should also be able to provide training in the practical application of these techniques, and to be equipped to offer advice and assistance as requested concerning the preservation and utilisation of archival materials. On a co-operative basis with States, institutions and individuals, it will compile a national register of archival resources. It is also desirable that every effort should be made to explore with other archival authorities ways and means of establishing a network of facilities which will ensure that the historical records of all levels of government or organisations and of private individuals are readily accessible for the widest range of research and educational, cultural and community activities.

The Government is concerned that there should be a more systematic and national approach to the administration of archival resources within Australia. Improvement will depend on the development of techniques of Archives administration which can deal with all levels and types of archival material and which encourage as much uniformity of approach as possible. This, in turn will promote the development of a profession with its own qualifications and recognised standards, and whose members are equipped to move more readily from institution to institution. Again, the possibility of using joint public facilities and the provisions of services in common which could then follow, are aspects which need to be encouraged in order that resources, which will always be limited, are utilised to the maximum in the interests of the public. The measures which I have just outlined will, I believe, allow the Australian Archives to take its proper place alongside other institutions in stimulating developments which are long overdue. Success will depend on co-operation and enterprise, but if it can be achieved, Australia will move to the forefront in this field of national endeavour.

I now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. It will be the function of the Australian Archives to have the custody and management of all Commonwealth records which are not required to be readily available for on-going needs of government administration. A Commonwealth record is defined as any record which is the property of the Commonwealth, but the term does not extend to material in a collection maintained by the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia, or the Australian National Gallery. Special provision is made 'for certain Commonwealth records separate from those of the Public Service and associated government agencies, such as the records of Parliament, the GovernorGeneral, the courts, Cabinet, the Executive Council, and royal commissions, which are to be treated in accordance with arrangements made by the persons responsible for them with the Archives and not subject to the compulsory provisions of the legislation applying to the generality of records. In addition, the Archives will have power to seek the deposit in its custody of other records closely associated with the origin, history, and functioning of the Commonwealth Government and to take steps to ensure that such material is properly preserved. Together, all these materials will constitute the archival resources of the Commonwealth which it will be the special function of the Archives to care for and maintain. The Archives will also have the function where appropriate of encouraging and fostering the preservation of all other archival resources relating to Australia.

The most significant single function of the Archives will, of course, be the care and management of Commonwealth records no longer required for current use in Government administration. The Bill makes specific provisions concerning transfer and custody and it is important that the significance of these arrangements be clearly appreciated. In essence, specific provisions of the Bill are designed to ensure that records begin to flow into bulk storage repositories as soon as they are no longer required for immediate administrative use. To complete this process, no Commonwealth records more than 25 years old will, as a general rule, remain in the custody of agencies. Bringing together noncurrent records in this fashion has a number of advantages. Office space can be released and put to proper use and the records can be kept in good physical condition. Once transferred, they can be managed throughout Australia on behalf of agencies by retrieval and storage procedures. This allows a systematic application of agreed programs to weed out records which have become valueless, thus further reducing costs. It also allows the permanently valuable records, as they pass the 25-year mark and approach the public open access period, to be listed, indexed, described, examined for the purposes of conservation and generally prepared for further use in administration as well as for public availability under the provisions of the Government's access policy.

It is important that groups of records so treated remain as stable as possible, otherwise the work of preparation, designed to provide information on the structure of Government and to describe interrelationships between its records at any given time, will be rendered progressively obsolete. Accurate information of this sort is essential for the full understanding and use of these records. It is also important that the main body of records eligible for public use should remain intact and accessible. The Bill, therefore, further indicates that agencies will be expected when it is necessary to consult records which are in the public open access period and in Archives custody, to consult the records on Archives premises. If this cannot be done for sound administrative reasons, then such records recalled to agencies are not to be altered in any way, or incorporated into their current records, except in most unusual circumstances. This, of course, is one of those occasions when it is necessary for Governments to balance the expectations of the public against the needs of administration.

Careful attention has also been given to the question of regulating the disposal and destruction of Commonwealth records, including those in automated form. The Government felt that the existing arrangements by which such matters are dealt with through ad hoc administrative instructions and conventions do not provide a sufficiently firm foundation for effective management or for the support of important aspects of Government policy. Accordingly, the Bill prohibits the disposal, destruction or transfer of custody or ownership of Commonwealth records unless these procedures meet certain requirements. The central role of the Archives is established and, in general, all practices and arrangements relating to disposal or destruction must have the approval of the Archives, as well as the consent of the responsible Commonwealth institution. However, special provision has been made to ensure that the requirements of other laws and of the normal processes of administration which, for example, may involve the exchange or transfer of records between Commonwealth institutions in the normal course of public business, are not interfered with.

Under these provisions, the great majority of Commonwealth records must be brought within the scope of procedures, developed' by the Archives and the responsible Commonwealth institution, which will allow the value of specific records, or whole classes of records to be assessed. These decisions will be incorporated in schedules which will also indicate the length of time for which records are to be kept and act as the authority for any destruction. The schedules will be reviewed from time to time, so that they will reflect changing administrative needs and community standards. Such arrangements are crucial to the effective management of the vast bulk of Commonwealth records permitting, as they do, an orderly and systematic weeding out of valueless material. They are also crucial to all government policies relating to the availability of Commonwealth records for public access. For these policies to be effective and credible, it is essential that the decision concerning which records are to be kept and which destroyed must be made by reference to a comprehensive and authorised system capable of definition, explanation and review. In this the Bill establishes a central role for the Archives which, in consultation with responsible Commonwealth institutions, will decide proper procedures.

Much of the Bill is concerned with a matter of special interest to the Government, that is, with the question of public access to Commonwealth records. The relevant provisions of the Archives Bill and the measures contained in freedom of information legislation have been carefully coordinated in order that together they should constitute comprehensive arrangements covering the public accessibility of the widest range of Commonwealth documentation. Broadly speaking, freedom of information covers material which is thirty years old or less, while the arrangements under Archives legislation relate to records more than thirty years old. Access under Archives legislation is designed to meet the needs not only of those who wish to consult single, specific documents but also of those who wish to search through a large number of records in order to find the information which they desire. In other words, the arrangements are intended to meet the needs of comprehensive research and general enquiry, as well as to cater for those who already know which records they are looking for.

It is expected that under these arrangements the great majority of Commonwealth records more than thirty years old will become available for such purposes. There is also provision for special access to and accelerated release of records less than thirty years old. Inevitably, however, in the interests of personal privacy, good government and security, some exemptions will have to be applied and these will be very similar in principle to those provided for under freedom of information legislation. However, it is expected that relatively fewer records will be withheld under Archives legislation because this deals, in the main, with older records.

In determining questions of release for publicaccess, the examination of older records for access purposes is to take place as a continuing process under arrangements made by the Director-General in consultation with the responsible Minister, and in accordance with programs determined by the Director-General. The programs of examination will cover records which are still in the custody of agencies, as well as those already transferred to the Archives. Particulars of such examinations, except in the case of exempt records in respect of which a certificate has been made, will be entered in the National Guide to Archival Material, an updated copy of which will be maintained in ali Blanches of the Australian Archives. This will allow the public to ascertain which records are open for use and which have been closed.

The Bill provides a right of appeal. Administrative decisions to close all or part of a record which is in the open access period, except material covered by a certificate or where it has been determined that access to a record would physically jeopardise that record, can be challenged by the public. This is to be done through an internal process of review or reconsideration and then, if necessary, by an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The applicant is to receive all reasonable assistance in identifying the record in question and the onus of establishing that the record is an exempt record lies with the party claiming the exemption.

In what I have said so far I have dealt only with the major aspects of the legislation. I have not referred, for example, to the proposed advisory council which will include both officials and private individuals and which can advise the Minister and the Director-General on all matters relating to the functions of the Archives. The field covered by the legislation is large and complex but the Bill will lie on the table until the Budget session so that honourable members and interested members of the public will have ample time to study it in detail and to make representations.

The Government recognises that progress towards the state of affairs envisaged in the Bill will inevitably be gradual and will not be achieved by legislation alone. Consistent with relevant Budget policies, it will be necessary to maintain a steady construction program and to ensure that these Australia-wide facilities are backed by adequate resources. Much progress has already been made in providing properly designed buildings for use by departments and the public. Suitable repositories now exist in Sydney, Darwin and Perth, and extended facilities in Adelaide will be completed within a few months. In Canberra, construction of a new repository in the suburb of Mitchell is in progress and this building, in addition to its primary function of servicing departments, will also be used temporarily to accommodate the public until such time as a fitting national building has been completed. Construction of the latter has been recently approved in principle and preparations for a national design competition are now under way. Projects covering facilities in other States are being developed and will be implemented as financial considerations allow.

Nevertheless, the significance of this legislation is fundamental. For the first time since Federation, doubts and obscurities concerning the preservation of and access to Commonwealth records will be replaced by a comprehensive system of management embodying measures of which the purpose can be defined and the effectiveness assessed. The objective of the Government is to achieve a proper balance between the requirements of administration and the reasonable expectations of the public. 1 am satisfied that in the measures which I have outlined such a balance has been struck. I am also confident that in the closely interlocking arrangements which protect the records themselves and provide for their custody, which recognise the needs and autonomy of departments and which at the same time make available the vast range of archival resources for public access through well defined channels and procedures, there is the foundation of an integrated system second to none. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.

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