The operation of Commonwealth Freedom of Information laws
The Law Council of Australia welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (Committee) in response to its inquiry into the operation of Commonwealth Freedom of Information (FOI) laws (Inquiry).
Freedom of access to government information is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law, and is recognised by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,1 which protects the freedoms of opinion and expression. In this regard, the United Nations Human Rights Committee states:2
To give effect to the right of access to information, States parties should proactively put in the public domain Government information of public interest. States parties should make every effort to ensure easy, prompt, effective and practical access to such information. States parties should also enact the necessary procedures, whereby one may gain access to information, such as by means of freedom of information legislation. The procedures should provide for the timely processing of requests for information according to clear rules that are compatible with the Covenant.
Such access is facilitated in Australia by the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act), designed to ensure open and accountable government by providing members of the public with a statutory and enforceable right of access to documents in the possession of government departments, agencies, and ministers.3
1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 19 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976) art 19.
2 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34: Article 19 – Freedoms of opinion and expression, 102nd sess, UN Doc CCPR/C/GC/34 (12 September 2011).
3 Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and Administrative Review Council (ARC), Open Government – A Review of the Federal Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Report 77, December 1995).