Victorian Liberals gut FoI


Victorian Liberals gut FoI

By Pip Hinman

MELBOURNE — A new law which restricts freedom of information access to the records of hundreds of state authorities was passed here on November 17. Scrutiny of any state government business enterprise under the Freedom of Information Act can be blocked under the new legislation.

Members of the public, the press and the opposition can now be refused records of any state-owned enterprise. The legislation is designed to allow the government to corporatise public utilities without being held publicly accountable — the legislation enables the government to exempt any state owned enterprise from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. Melbourne Water, SEC, Gas and Fuel and many other public utilities are now no longer bound to provide the public (the people who fund them) with information on their performance and viability.

Kennett's latest attack on democratic rights follows on from a similar arrogance to FoI displayed by former Labor administrations.

The Cain Labor government introduced the Freedom of Information legislation in 1982. In 1987 it announced regulations exempting the offices of the solicitor-general, auditor-general, director of public prosecutions, the ombudsman and other officials from FoI scrutiny. The former premier, Joan Kirner excluded the sale of Loy Yang B power station from FoI.

The Victorian co-ordinator of the Communications Law Centre, Paul Chadwick criticised this latest move by the Kennett government. "One of the lessons from the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the Tricontinental Royal Commission, the South Australian State Bank Royal Commission and the WA Inc Royal Commission, is that scrutiny, or the potential for it, is one of the most precious tools for public accountability." He said that both the Queensland and Western Australian royal commissions had recommended a better FoI scheme, not the closing of corners of government from public view.