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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (25 October) . . Page.. 2016 ..

Freedom of Information

MR KAINE: I ask a question of Mr Humphries, the Attorney-General. Minister, you may or may not have heard the statement made by Mr Connolly prior to the budget that had to do with FOI. On the assumption that you cannot keep up with all the statements Mr Connolly makes on a range of subjects, I will refresh your memory. He said:

Returning to a devolved FOI responsibility will mean a return to long delays in obtaining access to information - no doubt something this secretive government will be quite happy with. The losers will be citizens who want access to government information.

Minister, in light of recent changes you have made to the law relating to freedom of information, will you inform the Assembly whether the Minister was right when he said that the citizens would be losers, or are they in fact the real winners?

MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Kaine for the question. I did see the statement Mr Connolly made at the time of the lead-up to the budget. I must admit that he rather curiously described in his press release how under his administration from 1991-92 to 1993-94 the number of requests that took longer than 60 days to process through FOI had increased from 28.3 per cent to 54.3 per cent. Clearly, even he was not particularly happy with his own performance on that.

It is true to say that the alarmist comments made by the former Attorney-General on the changes to FOI have not been borne out by the budget. In fact, there has been a quite dramatic improvement in the position with respect to freedom of information under this open Liberal Government. Particularly, we have taken a step to free dramatically the free information that is available under the FOI scheme. Reforms we have put in place enable a person to gain access to information about themselves absolutely free, for nothing. People wanting information about their personal affairs under FOI will not be deterred from making an application by the potential costs imposed. For all other requests for information, the charge has been reduced from $30 to $15.

The significant deterrent in the previous FOI arrangements was the processing costs. A person who sought information would have to undertake to pay the costs of a person's time and the photocopying costs in obtaining the information that was being sought by the particular applicant. That could sometimes amount to literally hundreds of dollars. This Liberal Government, an open government, has abolished those processing fees altogether. Only where compliance with the request requires more than 200 pages of photocopying or 10 hours of work will any additional processing charges be imposed. After that point, cost recovery will apply. For the vast majority of FOI applications, it will now be possible to get that information for the simple flat $15 fee.

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