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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4852

Senator XENOPHON (11:31 AM) —I will make a brief contribution to indicate my support for the Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009]. I note the concern about conclusive certificates and I welcome this bill. I would like to pay tribute to the work that Senator Ludwig’s predecessor, Senator Faulkner, did on this and also to the work that Senator Ludwig is continuing in relation to freedom of information reform. Clearly there were concerns about the abuse of conclusive certificates previously, and clearly this is a welcome development.

I note from my brief discussion with Senator Ludwig previously that there will be an opportunity to have a review after two years of the workings of the new, substantive FOI bill, including these provisions dealing with conclusive certificates. So I think that we do have some further safeguards built in to ensure that there can be adequate scrutiny of how this particular bill will operate and whether it needs to be expanded even further.

On the question of Senator Ludlam’s proposed amendment with respect to national security issues, I am inclined to support that for the simple reason that I believe that there are still adequate safeguards by having an appeal process and an ability to have it reviewed by a tribunal. The only concern I have is whether, if the tribunal needs to test issues that could well be sensitive national security issues, there would be a closed hearing. If the nub of the issue is that it is a matter of national security, rather than an administrative matter which cannot reasonably be said to be a matter of national security, there ought to be some flexibility in the court process.

I do not know whether Senator Ludlam’s amendment will get up. If it does, there may be some further consideration of how it would be implemented. But I think it is important that, in the context of this piece of legislation, there is change coming, and that is a good thing when it comes to improving FOI. I think that having comprehensive, thorough and open freedom of information laws is one of the key foundations of a democracy, and I see this legislation as being a real step in the right direction.