Page 161 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 10 December 2008

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In conclusion, I feel very privileged to become an MLA and I will do my best to live up to the responsibility and work to make Canberra a better, greener place.

Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2008

Mrs Dunne, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (10.43): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

This bill represents an important first step to reform our freedom of information laws and it also honours a longstanding commitment, as well as an election commitment, of the Canberra Liberals. The bill also addresses a similar election commitment of the ACT Greens, and in making this remark I wish to acknowledge that the Greens have prepared a very similar bill for presentation to the Assembly today. They recognised not only the Canberra Liberals’ interest, but also my own personal interest and agreed that the bill that should be presented today should be mine, and I thank them for their courtesy.

I am aware that tomorrow the government intends to introduce a similar bill. That is all fine and good, but the government has come to this debate very late in the piece. Further, methinks that the government was spurred into action only because of reforms introduced by the commonwealth, to which I will refer later.

The bill that I present today is a reincarnation of part of the government transparency bill that I introduced into the Assembly on 5 December 2007. It was never debated before it lapsed at the end of the Sixth Assembly. That bill, the Government Transparency Legislation Amendment Bill, contemplated the withdrawal of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1989 relating to conclusive certificates for executive documents and internal working documents. This bill picks up that contemplation and further contemplates the withdrawal of the provisions relating to conclusive certificates for documents that refer to commonwealth-state relations.

Quite simply, conclusive certificates are a cop-out. They are a means by which governments, ministers and bureaucrats can deny people access to documents by an arbitrary stroke of the pen. They are a veil behind which governments, ministers and bureaucrats can hide. The use of conclusive certificates goes against the very tenet of transparency and accountability. They are an abomination because they are a mockery of the very foundation of freedom of information policy.

This Stanhope Labor government has used conclusive certificates to spectacular effect in recent years, particularly for the purposes of blocking access to the functional review and also in relation to the closure of government schools in the territory. The government’s born-again approach to conclusive certificates, demonstrated by its own intentions for tomorrow, whilst welcome, is far too late. And I wonder what the government’s attitude might have been had it retained majority government.

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