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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 7 Hansard (18 June) . . Page.. 1788 ..


MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (10.55): Mr Speaker, I ask for leave to present the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 1996.

Leave granted.

MR HUMPHRIES: I present the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 1996 and its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.

MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I move:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

The Freedom of Information Act 1989 gives members of the public an enforceable right of access, subject to specified exemptions, to documents in the possession of agencies and to official documents in the possession of Ministers. The Act is modelled on the Commonwealth's Freedom of Information Act 1982, which has just been the subject of a detailed review carried out jointly by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Administrative Review Council. It is intended that a review of the Territory FOI Act also be conducted, building on the Commonwealth's investigation, and that consideration be given to a replacement Act covering freedom of information, privacy and management of government records. This exercise will take some considerable time to complete, due to its complexity and size. There are, however, several amendments which should, desirably, be made to the Act in the short term.

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 1996 will amend the Freedom of Information Act in three significant ways. First, the Bill will amend the requirements in relation to annual reporting to provide for responsible Ministers to report annually on the operations of the Freedom of Information Act in respect of themselves and their agencies. This new arrangement will reflect the fact that agencies have now assumed full and direct responsibility for the application of the Act to their operations, rather than the arrangement which previously existed of the Attorney-General's Department providing a centralised coordination and processing function. The Attorney-General will, however, be required to provide an overview of the operations of the Act in the previous year, which will be published in the annual report of the Attorney-General's Department.

Secondly, the Bill will bring within the coverage of the FOI Act Territory-owned corporations and their subsidiaries and will ensure that the act of corporatising a public body does not mean that that body ceases to be covered by the FOI Act. At present incorporated companies and associations are not agencies, although such bodies over which the Territory is in a position to exercise control may be brought under the Act by regulation. Making such bodies agencies for the purposes of the FOI Act would also bring them within the coverage of the Privacy Act 1988 of the Commonwealth.

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