Wednesday, 11 June 2008

FOI review changes cautiously welcomed

Premier Anna Bligh and Attorney-General Kerry Shine release the FOI review report yesterday.

A State Government-commissioned review released yesterday makes 140 recommendations on how to improve public access to information.

The review recommended sweeping changes to FOI laws so more information is made available more quickly and cheaply.

Keeping Cabinet documents secret for 10 years, rather than 30, is one of the recommendations that Premier Anna Bligh will consider.

Ms Bligh says she is comfortable with the suggestions and supports the findings, but will hold further consultation before new laws are drafted later this year.

The Australian Press Council (APC) says media freedom in Queensland will only improve if there is a complete change of attitude towards FOI.

APC chairman Professor Ken McKinnon says the State Government's promise to be more open will be tested when it comes under pressure from journalists.

"When there's some potential scandal and the hungry dogs in the media are chasing and trying to get the information and they're not to be deterred very readily then we'll see whether a new culture will last or not," he said.

Lead the world

Michael Cope from the Council for Civil Liberties says it is up to MPs to lead a cultural shift.

"Politicians have to have the courage to implement these recommendations even though they may suffer some harm or embarrassment as a result," Mr Cope said.

Professor McKinnon agrees, saying it would be a big change for the Government.

"Given that it has a notorious reputation for wheeling things through Cabinet," he said.

University of Tasmania law lecturer Rick Snell says Queensland would lead the world in its approach to freedom of information if new recommendations are implemented.

"It will move Queensland to the forefront of freedom of information legislation in Australia," he said.

"It would also move to the forefront of freedom of information within the world, because these proposals give us a blueprint of how to move freedom of information into the next generation."

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