Page 620 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2008

[Cognate bill:
Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2008 (No 2)]

Debate resumed from 10 December 2008, on motion by Mrs Dunne:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12.15): Given the high level of similarity of issues in relation to freedom of information in both of these bills, I think it is sensible that they are dealt with at the same time.

There are a number of issues that I want to outline and respond to in relation to Mrs Dunne’s bill, the Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2008. Mrs Dunne proposes some reforms which are similar to the reforms proposed by the government. Those include the removal of conclusive certificates in a wide range of circumstances. There are some differences, and these will be matters for discussion during the detail stage in particular. I will just outline what I see as the key differences between Mrs Dunne’s bill and the government’s bill.

The key differences are that Mrs Dunne’s bill would remove the use of conclusive certificates and would not provide for any other exemption for certain types of documents. The government is of the view that a number of executive documents require protection and that that protection is recognised in the freedom of information legislation. Those documents include the cabinet notebook and other documents that contain notes of any discussion or deliberation in cabinet itself. We believe it is a very important principle that the cabinet is able to operate in a full and frank manner. Indeed, it is the only forum within the government where ministers can disagree with each other in a full and frank manner for the purposes of achieving a government decision on a policy approach, a legislative approach, a budget matter and so on.

If the views of respective ministers in a cabinet discussion were made public through, for example, a freedom of information request for a document such as the cabinet notebook, that would strike at the very heart of the freedom that is needed for collective decision-making in cabinet. For that reason, the government believes that protection should be afforded to that type of document—the cabinet notebook or a similar type of document—and I will be proposing amendments to provide protections of those in due course.

Similar arguments are associated with a number of other documents which Mrs Dunne proposes in her legislation should not be afforded any particular protection. These documents include documents such as those provided to newly appointed ministers for the purposes of giving information and advice about the minister’s portfolio responsibilities, often known as incoming government or incoming minister’s briefs; documents prepared by or for a minister for the purposes of accounting to the Assembly in relation to appropriation, for example, before giving

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