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Monday, 11 May 2015
Page: 2722

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (13:20): by leave—I move opposition amendments (3) to (6) together:

(3) Schedule 1, item 27, page 16 (before line 7), before paragraph 17A(a), insert:

   (aa) Freedom of Information Division;

(4) Schedule 1, item 27, page 17 (after line 13), after section 17C, insert:

17CA Assignment to Freedom of Information Division

The Minister must not assign a member to the Freedom of Information Division unless the Minister is satisfied that the member:

   (a) has training, knowledge or experience relating to the Freedom of Information Act 1982; or

   (b) has other relevant knowledge or experience that will assist the member in considering matters relating to the operation of that Act.

(5) Schedule 1, item 27, page 19 (line 3), omit "subsection 17E(2) or section 17F", substitute "section 17CA, subsection 17E(2) or section 17F".

(6) Schedule 1, item 27, page 19 (line 32), omit "subsection 17E(2) or section 17F", substitute "section 17CA, subsection 17E(2) or section 17F".

These amendments reflect a recommendation contained in the Labor senators' additional comments to the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. It would create a specialist division of the AAT to deal with freedom of information matters.

Labor moves this amendment to deal with the fallout from the government's Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014, which would abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and make the AAT the first port of call for those seeking independent review of FOI decisions. We oppose that bill and the crossbench opposes the bill. The government has been unable to explain, in the face of its failure to pass the ill-fated measure from last year's budget, how it will proceed. If the government is happy to undertake now that it will withdraw its freedom of information bill, the need for this amendment will fall way. But whilst the government persists with that bill this amendment is necessary. If the AAT is to be the main jurisdiction for handling FOI appeals, we must support the AAT to develop sufficient expertise, experience and specialisation in handling those matters. This amendment would go some way towards achieving that, though we are clear that the best case scenario is the withdrawal of the freedom of information bill itself.