Faulkner v Conroy

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, is getting a lot of negative press in the blogosphere for his idiotic insistence on pressing ahead with an idiotic internet censorship scheme. Rightly so – it will infantilise Australian adults, and won’t work very well. It will also have a big impact on free speech, as demonstrated by the ‘blacklist’ detailed on Wikileaks – it’s not just the bogeymen of the internet being blocked, but legitimate political dissent websites that happen to be fairly graphic. Furthermore, Conroy and the Labor government have decided that no-one should know why a website should be blacklisted, who decides, how broad the criteria are, and that there is no appeal.

Thankfully, Federal Labor aren’t all crypto-fascists. Despite his 1984-ish title, Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner has just announced one of the best administrative law changes in the last decade – two bills to alter the Freedom of Information Act – which will go a long way to improving citizen’s access to information about what their government is doing and why.

Previously, Freedom of Information requests were expensive, slow, often refused, often redacted, and without further recourse. Faulkner has made an effort to address all of these problems by scrapping the multitude of exemptions (except Cabinet documents), abolishing application fees, and creating three independent commisioner roles to oversee the implementation. In addition, the 30-year rule for Cabinet records will be shortened to 20 years, and Cabinet diaries from 50 to 30.

Perhaps the least-reported significant change is the idea of regular review of the FoI laws. I applaud this move, and hope all legislation will eventually be subject to regular review (preferably sunset clauses so that they lapse unless passed again) in order to weed out anachronisms and bad laws.

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