Activists Launch Petition; Austria Offers Draft Law

8 March 2013

The Austrian government has offered first-draft freedom of information legislation, a move coming as activists pursue an online petition drive for FOI reform.

A civil society initiative, Transparenzgesetz .at,  has been supported by more than 7,600 people. The campaign for freedom of information in Austria was founded by former journalist Josef Barth and the anti-corruption expert Hubert Sickinger.

The government has responded with documents being used for discussion purposes and the process includes both political parties, according Austrian activists. The draft one-page  outline of a FOI bill (in German) and the draft constitutional changes (in German) were leaked to the media.

Among other things, the government is proposing to delete a constitutional provision (Art 20/4 B-VG) that demands secrecy of public officials, and to replace it with a guaranteed right to access government documents.

The draft legislation was developed by the Chancellors Office (Bundeskanzleramt) by the secretary of state.

The case for FOI reform is made in a statement (in German) on the Transparenzgesetz .at  website, which says in part (with help from Google translate): “The now publicized corruption scandals clearly show that they were only possible in large part because the actions of the administration are not transparent and they were deprived of the control of the public.”
 
Despite a so-called “transparency package” in 2012, much remains hidden, according to the statement, which goes on to call for a “paradigm shift in the relationship between government and citizens concerning transparency.”

The group is supporting a transparency law modeled after one passed in Hamburg.

Austria has the lowest-rated right to information law in the world and in past years told a European human rights watchdog that it does not need to improve the law. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

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