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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 164

Senator MISSEN(5.42) —I wish to continue my remarks on the report that has been presented to the Senate. The report contains comments and recommendations by the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs following a study of the first year report of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) on the operations of the Freedom of Information Act. I made comments then about the report. While we are rather pleased with the way in which the Act has been operating I point out that this report is only on the first seven months. Since that time the second year has passed and we expect a further report shortly.

The information that I have received and which I have had the opportunity of discussing with audiences in London in recent months indicates that the operation in the second year indeed is an improved one, both in the amount of usage of the Act and also in the fewer rejections of applications that are made. At this stage, I hoped that some debate would arise from this report. In fact, we put down our report to try to encourage debate but, like the Attorney-General , we also appear to have failed to evoke any debate. I think it is a pity that honourable senators who took a very active role in freedom of information are not showing a little bit more interest in the reports as they are presented. If we are to see this Act used more effectively-I think it is getting used more effectively-it is important for members of parliament to point out the rights of citizens that are incorporated in this Act and which need to be used and I think will be used more in the future.

Attention has been drawn to one matter in the report which I put down in June about which I am speaking now. I think that Senator Tate, the Chairman of the Committee, may have made a mention of this in the Senate, when I was not present . Paragraph 5.7 of the report refers to the conclusive certificates which are granted under the Act. In part, the paragraph states: 'Granted by the Attorney- General'. I do not think the Attorney-General was very pleased with that. In fact, that was a typographical error. It should read: 'Granted by Ministers'. The Attorney-General had not granted any conclusive certificates in that year. He has rather a long record of not being very friendly disposed to the idea of conclusive certificates. I apologise to him for the error in the report. I hope that it will be corrected in the copies and that justice will be done.

In conclusion, I hoped other honourable senators would have commented on this matter, but that does not appear to be so. When the second year report is presented I hope we will be able to induce some debate on the part of honourable senators and that we will have more up to date information about the working of the Act.