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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (29 April) . . Page.. 111 ..

Wednesday, 29 April 1998


MR SPEAKER (Mr Cornwell) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.


MR OSBORNE (10.31): I present the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 1998, together with its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.


That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, if the United States can be described as a place where the people are suspicious of the government, then I think it would be fair to say that Australia is a democracy where the government is suspicious of the people. Since the arrival of the First Fleet, the authorities here - in colonial and then State and Federal governments - have treated the great unwashed with deep suspicion. The elite did not, and does not, trust the masses and believes that there are many things that it is better they do not know. The sacred art of public administration, they believe, is beyond ordinary people and best kept secret.

In the last 12 months have spoken a great deal about the need to reform. To me, reform of the freedom of information law is the central plank in reform of self-government. Information is power, and the Bill I present today is a first step in trying to crack open the incredibly hard nut of government information. It has been said in this place that the ACT has the best freedom of information legislation in the country. With respect to Mr Humphries, I have to say that that is not saying very much. The bar in Australia, in reality, is set too low, and I think it is time to lift it. Mr Speaker, I want this legislation to see the Government standing naked in Garema Place, with perhaps just a fig leaf or two left for modesty's sake. As to who performs that role, Mr Speaker, I will leave that to Mrs Carnell. I hope that it will not be Mr Kaine. Mr Speaker, I prefer that to the Government hiding in a cave somewhere in the Brindabellas, where you need a map, compass and torch to find them. And, when you find them, they move caves.

For the benefit of new members, I should point out that this Bill has been a long time in the workshop and is still not complete. Initially, it grew out of my experience in continually being denied access to information which, as best I could tell, had little or no reason for being withheld. As a new member in this place, I found this practice one of the most frustrating things in trying to adapt to my role as an MLA. In considering this,

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