Page 1590 - Week 05 - Thursday, 2 June 2022

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Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2022—Exposure draft, prepared by the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office.

This bill is a very important step towards a more transparent and accountable territory government, to bring more transparency and more scrutiny to government decisions that have an enormous effect in our community. It is timely, because with the current government that has been in power for over 20 years we see too often this tenure leading to complacency, hubris and a culture of secrecy. My bill would amend the Freedom of Information Act to create a proactive disclosure provision for the government to publicly release records within 30 business days after cabinet consideration.

Madam Speaker, we are a unicameral jurisdiction. Without the additional checks and balances afforded by an upper house, the ACT government must continuously try to enhance transparency and accountability in government decisions, and the bill I am tabling as an exposure draft today is another step in seeking to do just that.

The bill has been modelled on the New Zealand government’s proactive release of cabinet information policy, which has been in operation since 2018. New Zealand is also a unicameral jurisdiction and its commitment to more transparency in cabinet decisions provides a good example of what we could continue to do here in the ACT.

The bill contains an explicit definition of cabinet records and provisions for exemptions—for example, exemptions that apply if the release of a record would endanger persons, limit their rights or prejudice a criminal investigation, among others. The grounds for release or non-release in the public interest listed in schedules 1 and 2 of the Freedom of Information Act would also apply under my bill. Ministers would then exercise their judgement about what parts of records should be released.

The principle here is that transparency of government decision-making is essential and will foster better governance and more public confidence in the territory government. It is clear that our community want more transparency, more scrutiny, more accountability and more integrity in how government decisions are made.

Cabinet confidentiality has evolved over the centuries and there is no reason for it not to continue evolving. The role and composition of cabinets has also changed considerably in Australia since federation. Closer to home, you only have to look at how the role and composition of the ACT cabinet has evolved over its relatively short period under self-government to know that we are a jurisdiction that is capable of bringing good reform to how we govern.

This bill strikes the right balance between genuine cabinet confidentiality where documents that are clearly not in the public interest will continue to be protected, whilst at the same time providing a mechanism for the proactive release of records to give more public confidence in how cabinet decisions are made.

I invite all my colleagues here today and the broader public—and anyone else, for that matter, who is serious about transparency, accountability, integrity and scrutiny—to

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