Both intelligence agencies and federal parliamentary departments should be subject to federal freedom of information laws, says Australian Greens democracy spokesperson Lee Rhiannon in her submission to the review of federal FOI laws (link to full submission and recommendations below).
In 2010 Greens Senator Scott Ludlam moved amendments to ensure the current view of FOI legislation. Dr Allan Hawke AC is conducting the review into the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010. Submissions closed Friday 7 December:
"One acid test for Prime Minister Gillard, who has made clear statements about transparency and accountability, is whether she will agree to subject all government agencies to freedom of information laws," Senator Rhiannon said.
"Sensitive information is already protected from disclosure under FOI law and Australian intelligence agencies and parliamentary departments should not be beyond the reach of public scrutiny.
"The noises made by Nicola Roxon suggest that the government is anxious to ensure parliamentary departments are not subject to the same degree of transparency as other government agencies, despite the millions they receive in public money.
"The Australian Greens would be extremely disappointed if the Attorney General used this review as a lever to once again shield the departments of the House of Representatives, the Senate and Parliamentary Service from freedom of information requests.
"The Greens also recommend that the shroud of secrecy around our intelligence agencies be removed. There is no reason why we should not follow the lead of the CIA in the US and MI5 or MI6 in Britain.
"Simply because a document originated in a security agency does not mean it automatically has implications for national security and attracts automatic and full exemption from FOI laws.
The Greens' wide ranging recommendations also include:
- granting additional resources to a cash strapped Office of the Australian Information Commissioner so he can properly meet the legislation's objectives and
- providing a 24 hour 'grace' period between when information is provided to an applicant and published on the internet to guard against journalists seeking information under FOI being scooped by other media outlets.
"There is widespread community support for broad FOI laws that ensure accountability and transparency of government.
"Ideally government agencies should make more information publicly available as a matter of course.
"Information is central to knowing how our elected representatives are exercising their power and to hold our representatives to account," Senator Rhiannon said.