Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 02 Hansard (Wednesday, 11 February 2009) . . Page.. 662 ..
accountability and open discussion between agencies and ministers, particularly in relation to documents covered by the proposed section 11(1A) is a concept which must be accepted at some level by all members of the Assembly.
The rationale for the exclusion of these documents, on the basis of ministerial responsibility, has been explored in a comprehensive study of freedom of information legislation undertaken in Queensland by an independent review panel last year, and I referred to that review panel, the Solomon review, in my earlier comments in this debate. That study has been well received by jurisdictions throughout Australia. The government in the ACT has adopted the recommendation that, to preserve and promote individual ministerial responsibility, question time briefs, incoming government briefs, annual estimates briefs and the cabinet notebook, which we have just discussed, should be exempt from disclosure under the freedom of information legislation.
I would challenge the view that the current exemptions are sufficient to clearly single out the information in these documents as falling under an existing exemption in the act. Some information contained in these documents will but other information will not. Principally, exemptions rely on the executive document and working document exemptions.
Factual information is not covered by an exemption and, although there is no disagreement that factual information should be released, it is often inextricable from the advice and analysis provided and would inadvertently disclose the deliberations being undertaken. Factual information will undoubtedly also be available through other source documents and therefore will be accessible under FOI requests, which do not specifically target such items as an incoming government brief. Jurisdictions which comply with this system include in their FOI regimes exemptions and exclusions to protect these essential documents which are mechanisms to ensure and reinforce the personal individual responsibility of ministers and their ability to govern.
The proposed new section 11(1A), this amendment, properly intends to ensure frank advice between government and public service advisers. So this is an important change. The principle is the same as the one I have advocated in relation to the cabinet notebook but I extend it to make the point that ministers must be able to properly account to parliaments for decisions and actions of their portfolios and to do so they need to be properly informed on it.
I would draw to the attention of members, in particular, issues on incoming government briefs. Incoming government briefs are comprehensive documents, particularly when there has been a change of political party in government; less so, but still important, when there are changes of minister within the same political party that is in government. But on a change of government, particularly between political parties, it is often the first comprehensive opportunity available to public servants to brief their incoming minister on all the issues at play in their new portfolio responsibilities. It is a particularly important opportunity where the public service believes it needs to outline to the incoming minister issues of concern or problems that perhaps were familiar to the previous minister in government but had not been acted on or had been addressed in a particular way where the public service believe that other options should be considered.