The challenge of changing attitudes to information ownership and FOI

In a recent article on news.com.au reporter Fiona Hudson clearly describes the problem with the way Freedom of Information, FOI, is currently administered in Victoria. Hudson registered and took part in a day long conference learning about the recent changes to FOI in Victoria along side public servants and administrators of FOI. According to her first hand report, much time was spent on finding the relevant sections in the law to keep information out of the public domain. This is completely contrary to what the four recently reformed jurisdictions (Queensland, NSW, Commonwealth and Tasmania) are trying to achieve – proactive disclosure of government held information.

Premier Ted Baillieu promised to usher in a new era of openness and transparency in Victoria in the last election campaign. Like so many times before he has proved that it’s easy to promise this when it opposition, but very hard to deliver when in government. After many months of searching Premier Baillieu finally found his Freedom of Information Commissioner. I can only agree with Fiona Hudson that the new commissioner is facing major challenges:

‘Watchdog Lynne Bertolini finally started this month, with powers to conduct reviews and investigate complaints from the public. She comes to office promising to educate FOI gatekeepers about their responsibilities and to ensure they have a clear understanding of the Act and the objectives of the legislation. Based on what I glimpsed, she’ll have her work cut out.’