Page 1193 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 10 May 2023

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Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2022

Debate resumed from 21 September 2023, on motion by Mr Steel:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR CAIN (Ginninderra) (11.41): I want to thank the Special Minister of State for bringing this bill, the Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2022, into the chamber today.

I think it is uncontested that transparency is a key tenet of our democracy. The Canberra Liberals, in reviewing this bill, have decided that some of the clauses should not be supported—and it will become clear to members which ones of those I have chosen on behalf of the Canberra Liberals—because we believe that the proposed clauses contradict the very objectives of the Freedom of Information Act.

Transparency does not come without work, rigour and a constant reassessment of context. The bill proposed today by the Special Minister of State does not highlight transparency as a key value. I think this is, distressingly, a clear indicator of the values of this Labor-Greens government.

Transparency, particularly in a unicameral parliament, is even more important to highlight due to the structure of our system. One of the reasons that the Leader of the Opposition, Elizabeth Lee, and the Canberra Liberals presented a second FOI bill was that we believed that the ACT government did not benefit from the usual checks and balances that an upper house provides and, therefore, it is incumbent on the ACT government to allow greater transparency and openness in decisions made by cabinet.

Other unicameral parliaments such as New Zealand are operating with greater concern for maintaining transparency. Professor Coaldrake, in the Coaldrake review in Queensland, which also has a unicameral parliament, cites that the proactive release of cabinet documents would be an important signal from the very top for an open and pro-disclosure culture in government, saying—and I quote:

… it is a common sense proposition that citizens are likely to have more trust in their governments if they know that decisions that use taxpayers funds … are made in the open, and subject to scrutiny.

I want to focus on this concept of “pro-disclosure” as it seems to be one of the main intentions of the current Freedom of Information Act. Specifically, section 9 states:

… it is the intention of the Legislative Assembly that this Act be administered with a pro disclosure bias and discretions given under it be exercised as far as possible in favour of disclosing government information.

That is a very bold and worthy statement, and it is disappointing to see many measures in this bill fly in the face of this commitment.

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