Friday, November 16, 2007

Problems with Freedom of Information

One of the side-elements in the current Australian election campaign has been a focus on Freedom of Information. These are sets of laws at Federal and State level that give the citizen, and the media, the right to access Government information.

I have always been a strong supporter of Freedom of Information (FOI), but now am having some doubts as to scope.

As a senior Commonwealth Public Servant, I used to give my Minister the best advice I could. I gave arguments for and against, along with recommendations. Sometimes I wrote thought pieces, trying to tease arguments out without setting positions. Often, the advice was very frank.

At the time I wrote, the thought that my advice might be revealed was not relevant. Had it been, I would not have written that way.

I have recently had cause to look at advice now provided by a Department to a Minister. There is no real equivalent to the type of advice I used to provide.

Part of this is due to changes in style. But part is also due to the fact that advice may be revealed through an FOI request.

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