Recent decisions by Labor Premiers in Victoria and Queensland and the Commonwealth Government has placed pressure on Premier Rann to loosen South Australia’s increasingly restrictive Freedom of Information (FoI) laws.
Liberal Member of the Legislative Council Rob Lucas today said it was clear the national campaign by media interests – Right to Know – was starting to have an impact on Governments.
In the last month, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Victorian Premier John Brumby have announced they will change their state’s FoI laws to ensure greater access to Government documents.
Premier Bligh has confirmed documents were ‘wheeled’ into Cabinet so they could be exempt under FoI laws. Ms Bligh has announced a complete overhaul of the FoI laws and has appointed an independent three person panel to recommend changes.
Similarly, Premier Brumby announced major FoI reform as one of his first acts after becoming Premier. Even the Commonwealth Government has just announced a review of FoI laws by the Law Reform Commission.
“Having lodged almost 1,000 FoI requests in recent years, under Premier Rann, we have seen an increasingly restrictive approach to FoI laws designed to prevent more and more information and documents from being made public,” Mr Lucas said.
Some examples are:
• Use of the excuse of Parliamentary Privilege as a device to prevent release of documents has now spread like a ‘cancer’ and was being increasingly used by all departments;
• Treasury analysis of documents like Access Economics reports which were previously released under FoI were now being refused on the grounds they were ‘Cabinet documents;’
• Details of actual Budget cuts first announced in the 2002 Budget were still not being released;
• Recent evidence of Treasury officers ordering up to 40 public servants to attend a meeting to receive ‘advice’ on how to handle an FoI request to all Departments on claimed savings under the Government’s ‘Future ICT’ process.
“Contrary to Premier Rann’s promise to lead an open and accountable Government, we now have the most secretive Government in South Australia’s history.
“Mr Rann’s sorry record now includes refusing to answer hundreds of questions taken on notice in Parliament as well as the tightening noose under FoI laws.”