Feds eye FOI cutbacks

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Feds eye FOI cutbacks
Nicola Roxon, Attorney-General.

Attorney General concerned over cost of scheme.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has announced an independent review of the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that the scheme is costing to much too administer.

“About $41 million of taxpayer money was spent across the Federal Government in 2011-12 processing FOI requests,” Roxon said in a press release.

Roxon has appointed Dr Allan Hawke AC to conduct a review of the act.

“The review will consider how the Government’s FOI costs could be reduced, including the Information Commissioner’s recent recommendations regarding the current charging regime," Roxon said.

Starting in November, Dr Hawke will review the effectiveness of the Government’s recent Freedom of Information law reforms.

“The review will consider how these Acts and related laws continue to provide an effective framework for access to government information,” Ms Roxon said. 

“Importantly, the review will also assess the impact of reforms to Freedom of Information laws in 2009 and 2010.”

Judging by its terms of reference, the review focuses on costs and renewed concerns about Government information being undermined through potential misuse of the public interest test introduced in recent amendments.

For example, the review will consider:

“…the reformulation of the exemptions in the FOI Act including the application of the new public interest test taking into account:

(i)    the requirement to ensure the legitimate protection of sensitive government documents including Cabinet documents; and

(ii)   the necessity for the government to continue to obtain frank and fearless advice from agencies and from third parties who deal with government;

The review will also consider, “…   the desirability of minimising the regulatory and administrative burden, including costs, on government agencies.”

Roxon’s release states that in 2011-12, more than 22,000 FOI requests were determined at an average cost of $1876 per request.

“A wide range of stakeholders and users of Freedom of Information laws will be consulted as part of the review, which is expected to be completed within a six month timeframe," Roxon said.

“I look forward to receiving Dr Hawke’s report on his review, which will be tabled in the parliament.”

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