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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 8 Hansard (11 August) . .

Page.. 2743..

In the form it has been presented to us today, it will result in an unworkable regime that erodes crucial protections and imposes unnecessary and substantial costs on the public and the Assembly. These government amendments are not about placing certain information or agencies above scrutiny. They are about the need for a balance between access to information and the effective functioning of government.

I am confident that with the government amendments the bill will strike a better balance. So the government will support in principle the bill today, subject to the amendments that I will propose in the detail stage.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.34): The Canberra Liberals, as Mr Hanson said, will be supporting this bill. We will also be supporting a number but not all the amendments proposed by the government. This bill repeals the existing Freedom of Information Act 1989 and creates a whole new structure for freedom of information in the ACT. It changes the emphasis from finding ways to exempt documents from release to justifying why information should not be released. This bill establishes what is called a push model for information.

I think the most important element in this document is the creation of the role of information officer, whose job is to release information and deal with requests for information. This bill provides a statutory protection for an information officer from direction to withhold information. That is a very powerful statement: the information officer will be statutorily protected from a direction to withhold information from the public.

There are problems with this bill but there are ways of getting around them. Some of them are not simple, and they have to be done. There is quite a bit of symmetry in that Mr Corbell, Mr Rattenbury and I are discussing freedom of information at the end of the Eighth Assembly because it has been something of an emblematic argument over the past two terms of the Legislative Assembly. Last night Mr Rattenbury suggested that I might like to move a particular amendment. I said no, this is his bill and I would be facilitating the passage of his bill.

Going back to 2008, one of the first major reforms of freedom of information was the removal of conclusive certificates from the existing legislation, which both the Greens and the Liberal Party took as policy to the 2008 election. Mr Rattenbury quite gallantly, on behalf of the Greens, left the way clear for the Liberal Party and for me to move that important legislation. It is worth reflecting that there were attempts before 2008 to remove conclusive certificates from the Freedom of Information Act. Attempts to do that were stymied by Mr Corbell and the Labor Party because, in agreeing to remove conclusive certificates, the amendments put forward by the Labor Party, which were thankfully never debated, would have made the Freedom of Information Act more opaque than it currently is.

I have spoken a number of times about the importance of access to information for good government in this place. I think I made an eloquent speech once that open government was like sunlight, that there was nothing more cleansing than sunlight on the operations of government, and that the people of the ACT had rights to access to information.

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