Posted on 19. Dec, 2011 in News

The Baillieu Government has today refused to provide the Opposition with a detailed briefing on its FOI Commissioner Bill, despite having introduced it in Parliament two weeks ago.

A briefing for the Opposition on this important Bill was scheduled for today, but a political adviser in the office of Minister Andrew McIntosh called it off late last week claiming that because one departmental official was not available, the whole briefing needed to be rescheduled.

Though the Opposition indicated it was happy to be briefed by the Minister’s staff and other departmental staff who worked on the Bill, the Baillieu Government has now refused to brief Labor until 20 January next year.

Opposition Scrutiny of Government Spokesman Martin Pakula said the briefing would now be held six weeks after the Bill’s introduction and just two weeks before the Bill was due to be debated in Parliament.

“This decision is clearly designed to reduce the Opposition and media’s ability to scrutinise this Bill or to propose changes to it during the Christmas and New Year period,” Mr Pakula said.

“To rely on the absence of one person to delay a briefing by a month is ridiculous. Are we expected to believe that nobody else has worked on putting this Bill together?”

Through its own analysis of the Bill, the Opposition has already found:

  • The Commissioner will have no jurisdiction over decisions made by Minister’s offices and political staff;
  • The Commissioner will have no jurisdiction over decisions by Agency or Department Heads;
  • The Commissioner will have no jurisdiction to examine a claim by an Agency that a document is “Cabinet in Confidence”;
  • Massive new delays have been built into the process of seeking access to information, enabling the Government to defer the release of documents for months by changing its decision once the FOI Commissioner has begun an investigation;
  • The Government will be able to frustrate the release of documents by appealing decisions of the FOI Commissioner to release documents to VCAT; and
  • The Government has broken its pre-election commitment that the FOI Commissioner will have responsibility for monitoring all FOI requests and would have jurisdiction to enforce legally binding professional standards on Departments.

“Ted Baillieu once said that FOI should be a matter of ask and you shall receive. Unfortunately, this Bill means that FOI applicants are unlikely to see anything more than refusal letters for months and months.” Mr Pakula said

“For a Government that said it was committed to “improving the transparency and openness of Freedom of Information” by removing it “from the political process” this Bill is a disgrace, and it’s little wonder they don’t want to brief the Opposition until next year.”

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