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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9473


Mr SIMPKINS (8:20 PM) —As a result of recent events in Perth, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009]. As we have been told, the main purpose of this bill is to take out of the FOI Act the ability to issue conclusive certificates, or in other words to take away the ability to reject FOI requests based on particular reasons as determined by the minister concerned. It is important to note that some people may think that this bill represents a change to complete visibility of government. I make the point that it does nothing of the sort and that everyone should be clear that within the FOI Act and the Archives Act exemption categories still remain. Those categories include matters to do with personal privacy in documents that have the risk of damaging national security, defence or international relations. I make my view clear on this point, which is that I remain in favour of these exemption categories, but I also make the point that if someone is hoping for an era of public accountability in this area, they are both mistaken about this bill and they are being unrealistic about how a government can operate.

This bill takes away the option of a minister deciding that a document which does not meet an exemption category should nevertheless not be publicly available. Before moving on, I would just finish this point by making the observation that this government whilst in opposition cleverly coined the phrase or policy title ‘government information restoring trust and integrity’. Not only is it consistent with the fallacy that the previous government lied, but it also suggests to a lot of people that this bill will deliver far more than this current government ever intended to deliver. It is nevertheless a highly effective political trick to create a grand statement and therefore create a perception of extensive action, whereas the reality is in fact action of a very limited scope. It is pretty much the hallmark of a very successful political spin machine.

While some people will embrace the elimination of conclusive certificates, it is also worth noting that this bill will introduce procedural measures that will protect what is described as ‘particularly sensitive information’ in proceedings of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is not that I am against this, but again it is notable that this bill actually imposes restrictions on the release of information as well. This is a bill that clearly demonstrates the difference between perception and reality. That being said, the process involves a claim for exemption by an agency, a minister or the National Archives, followed by the obtaining of evidence from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security regarding damage that could result from disclosure of documents or records—damage to national security, defence or international relations. If that evidence suggests exemption is warranted, presidential members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will hear an application for a review of a decision to refuse access to the document or record.

It is not my intention to speak on this bill for very long, but I did want to bring to the attention of the House that FOI laws can be abused and, sadly, are being abused. I refer to the situation in Western Australia, where it is very easy to make FOI applications and waste the time and resources of ministerial offices. In this case, I refer to the state member for Girrawheen, a lady whom, although she is on the opposite side of politics, I nevertheless had some regard for, until she embarked on this current stunt of putting in FOI requests for every document I have sent to a number of state ministers’ offices on behalf of constituents. I do not know why she has done this on several occasions, but my opinion of her has been shattered. I express my disappointment in her because she should be putting her resources towards helping the people who live in her electorate, not spending her entitlements wasting the time and resources of the state government. I would have thought that, if she had money left over from her electorate allowance, she would find some organisation in Girrawheen to spend it on, rather than playing some base political game.

Although she has far less territory to concentrate on than I do, perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps her intention is just to find out what is going on in her electorate. She could even read some of my speeches and she would see what is going on. She would see that this is the 17th speech in which I have made mention of Girrawheen. I mention Girrawheen a lot because I see the potential there and I want to encourage those who live there. Of course, the previous members for Cowan also made speeches about Girrawheen. Richard Evans, a former Liberal MP for Cowan, spoke of Girrawheen seven times in six years. Richard in fact spoke of Girrawheen the same number of times as the first member for Cowan, Labor’s Carolyn Jakobsen, who was the member for nine years. My immediate predecessor also did nine years and spoke of Girrawheen on three occasions. I go back to where I began on this point, which is that there are plenty of good things happening in Girrawheen, and when you look for the good and you look for the potential it is easy to speak of these positive factors. I continue to look for more opportunities to speak of the good work being done by the schools, churches and other organisations in Girrawheen.

To conclude my contribution, I would say again that abusing FOI for base political purposes is a waste of everyone’s time and resources, which would be better directed towards the people of Girrawheen, in this case. In terms of this debate on FOI changes in the bill, I would say that there is a big difference between perception and reality. The perception created by this government is that government actions and documents will be part of a new openness. Yet, despite that being unrealistic and unworkable in any case, what is being delivered does not match the rhetoric. Once again I question the authenticity of this government, a government that is about creating a facade, a false reality, for political advantage only.