Yesterday Senator John Faulkner announced a major overhaul of the Freedom of Information Laws in Australia.
24 March 2009
Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner today released exposure drafts of two Bills proposing the most significant overhaul of the Commonwealth Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 1982 since its inception.
The Bills modernise the FOI Act and promote a new system and culture of pro-disclosure for Government information.
“These draft Bills form a cornerstone of the Government’s commitment to enhancing accountability and transparency in government. The proposed Bills will deliver our election commitment to reform FOI,” Senator Faulkner said.
Key proposals include:
- Establishing two new statutory positions – Information Commissioner and FOI Commissioner – and bringing them together with the Privacy Commissioner in a new Office of the Information Commissioner. In terms of FOI, the new office will promote a culture of pro-disclosure across the Government.
- Giving the new Information Commissioner the power to conduct merits based reviews of FOI decisions by agencies, including the power to use alternative dispute resolution tools.
- Introducing a new information publication scheme requiring agencies to proactively disclose more information to the public – and giving the Information Commissioner a key role in assisting agencies and monitoring their compliance with the scheme.
- Reduction of the Archives Act’s 30 year rule for access to all documents to 20 years, and bringing forward access to Cabinet notebooks from 50 to 30 years.
- Important changes to the fee regime – including the abolition of all FOI application fees; the abolition of all charges for a person seeking access to their own information; a charge-free first hour of decision making time for all FOI requests; and for not-for-profit organisations and journalists, a first five hour charge-free decision making period.
- Introducing a single, clear pro-disclosure public interest test, and ensuring that factors such as embarrassment to the government, or causing confusion and unnecessary debate, can no longer be relied on to withhold access to documents.
- Extending the FOI Act to cover documents held by service providers contracted to the Government.
- Introducing a strong new objects clause in the FOI Act, which emphasises that information held by Government is a national resource, reinforcing that the aim of the FOI Act is to give the Australian community access to information held by Government.
The Government has already introduced a Bill to abolish conclusive certificates in the FOI and Archives Act.
Senator Faulkner also announced that an enforceable right of access to personal information held by Government will be moved from the FOI Act to the Privacy Act, and will be included in the draft legislation to reform the Privacy Act later this year.
Co-location of FOI and Privacy in the new structure will strengthen and elevate the role and importance of privacy laws.
Senator Faulkner also announced that the Government would be asking the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine the issue of whether FOI, or an alternative disclosure regime, should be introduced for the private sector.
The Government is now seeking a broad range of views on the exposure drafts of the Bills. Submissions can be made on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website www.pmc.gov.au with a closing date of May 15 2009.
After the consultation process, the Bills will be introduced later this year.
The full release can be found here:
This is to be contrasted with what is reported in the Australian Financial Review today.
Strong case for e-health funds this year
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 | Julian Bajkowski
Australia's peak e-health authority is hopeful the federal government will release funding or a full roll-out of a national electronic health record (EHR) this year as states increase pressure on the commonwealth to issue money for the scheme.
The chief executive of the National eHealth Transition Authority, Peter Fleming, told an Australian Information Industry Association briefing yesterday that a fully developed business case for a national EHR roll--out had been put to the Council of Australian Governments.
The case includes a bid for new funding.
Technology companies are watching the progress of e-health closely because it could provide both a local stimulus and future export opportunities, particularly to the US, which has announced a $US19 billion ($27.3billion) project to digitise its own health records.
Mr Fleming declined to say how much money his group had asked for, but previous estimates from analysts and consultants have pegged the initial outlay cost of the scheme at around $1 billion, with potential to generate savings of up to $30 billion over 10 years.
More details here:
What is the contrast you say? It is simply this. When the ill-fated HealthConnect program was being developed from 1999 to 2004 or so there was the development of a series of consultation documents that discussed what Australia needed, what experience was in the rest of the world, what issues were likely to be encountered and ultimately an approach to how the actual systems might be created, integrated and deployed was developed. Simultaneously both a technical and a business architectures were developed, consultations on issues like privacy etc were held and the final vision and plan was then widely disseminated for review and discussion.
At that point DoHA asked the Department of Human Services for a view as to what it might cost to actually implement the plan and the figure was so large (multiple billions) that suddenly what had been an actual plan for implementing systems became a ‘change management strategy’.
What we now seem to be getting from NEHTA is a one page system design and a few pretty pictures in the public domain with a secret business case being hawked around the States for approval and quite significant funding. (The NEHTA Individual Electronic Health Record (IEHR) was never something that could be acquired and implemented without real expenditure! – hence it being on hold till funding is obtained).
This way of doing business is clearly totally at odds with Federal Government policy. The public needs to understand in some detail what is proposed and to be able to assess the costs and benefits to form a view of their degree of credibility (or not).
Additionally those who know about such things need to be invited to provide serious commentary on how what-ever it is that NEHTA is proposing might be enhanced, improved, made more privacy protective or whatever.
No thinking citizen should tolerate the secrecy obsessed NEHTA behaving in this fashion. Minister Faulkner has made it clear what is expected of public sector organisations and NEHTA needs to change its ways and fast!
Oh, and by the way, maybe NEHTA should also release all those other consultants reports that we, as citizens, have also paid for. Given the amount of public money they have received, and hope to, we are seriously entitled to know exactly what advice they are getting so we can see if we agree with it – or not!