1 June 2012

My post on 11 May 2012 reported the surprise announcement by the Australian Information Commissioner that the House of Representatives, the Senate, and Parliamentary Services Department are subject to the Freedom of Information Act –  and should have been for the last ten years.  This was a reversal of a long maintained interpretation of the law. It was obviously welcomed by open government advocates.

This week, a former Chair of the Australian Public Service Commission, in Wellington together with Richard Mulgan for IPANZ / IPS coordinated seminars on Free and Frank Advice, expressed a view that it was most unlikely that the interpretation would be accepted.  He anticipated immediate pressure to restore the status quo.

Sure enough the news now is that the three Departments have challenged the OAIC interpretation that they are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and have taken the issue up with Attorney General.  She has indicated that she supports their view that the Act was not intended to extend to these bodies.  She said that  “It has been long-accepted practice that the parliamentary departments are exempt from FOI.  The government is currently considering its options to correct this anomaly.”

In New Zealand the Official Information Act is drafted in a way that excludes the interpretational issue facing the Australians.  A schedule to the Act specifies the agencies which are subject to its provisions.  Parliamentary Services and the legislature are not part of the schedule.