Australia

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  • 4 August 2016

    Australia Refuses to Release Emails With UNESCO

    The government of Australia has declined to release documents concerning the removal of all references in a UN report to damage from climate change to the Great Barrier Reef and other Australian World Heritage sites. UNESCO subsequently dropped the references after Australian officials argued that mentioning the damage would harm tourism, a development disclosed in […]

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  • 4 May 2016

    Hallelujah: Wisdom Prevails in Australia

    By Peter Timmins The author publishes the Open and Shut blog on FOI in Australia, where this article was posted May 3. From the Attorney General tonight: The Government has decided not to proceed with the new arrangements for privacy and Freedom of Information (FOI) regulation, including the proposed changes to the Office of the […]

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News Archive

  • 4 September 2015

    Australia Still Considering Committed OGP Membership

    The Australian government has not yet decided whether to commit toward membership in the Open Government Partnership, a government spokesperson told FreedomInfo.org Sept. 4. The OGP Steering Committee recently gave Australia until the end of October to indicate its intention to be an active member, or to join Russia as an OGP drop-out. The answer […]

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  • 27 August 2015

    FOI and eyes wide shut: even public servants want to know

    By Suelette Dreyfuss The author is a research fellow in Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne and part of an international team looking at the impact of technology on whistleblowing about wrongdoing. She is author of the 1997 book, Underground: Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. This is an expanded version […]

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  • 12 August 2015

    Former Aussie Minister Says Post-it Notes Used Skirt FOIA

    A former Australian minister has proposed additional protections against disclosure of documents used in the preparation of government policies. Officials now routinely avoid writing down their advice or use post-it notes to avoid having their opinions disclosed, former Immigration secretary Andrew Metcalfe told a conference, an observation he said was based on conversations with many […]

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  • 11 August 2015

    OGP Gives Australia Deadline to Draft National Action Plan

    By Toby McIntosh Australia’s lack of action as a member of the Open Government Partnership is “particularly concerning,” the OGP Steering Committee decided at a recent meeting. The Steering Committee set a new deadline for Australia “to recommit to OGP,” according to recently released minutes of the July 22-23 meeting. (See this page on the […]

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  • 24 June 2015

    FOI laws: fixing the chilling effect on frank advice

    By Stephen Easton The author is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. This article appeared June 18 in The Mandarin. Reprinted with permission. Those who want more limitations on transparency are regaining ground in the freedom of information tug-of-war. If the government thumbs its nose at disclosure and public servants are all too happy to follow […]

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  • 2 December 2014

    Australian Government Pulls Bill to Abolish Commissioner

    By Peter Timmins The author writes the Australian website Open and Shut, from which this article is reprinted. It’s Over! The Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill isn’t listed in Senate Order of Business(pdf) for 3 December. Despite the fact it continues to appear (at No 9) in the Notice Paper I have it on good authority that the government […]

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  • 9 October 2014

    Is alleged misconduct by a public official deserving of privacy protection?

    By Peter Timmins The author writes the Australian website Open and Shut, where this article was published Oct. 6. A companion article Oct. 7 says that when it comes to the the performance of normal governmental functions, sensitivity about disclosing names of officials “should usually take a back seat  to transparency, responsibility and accountability. I’d […]

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  • 7 August 2014

    Australian Commissioner Exempts Incoming Government Briefs

    By Peter Timmins The following article appeared Aug. 4 in Open and Shut, Timmins’ blog about FOI in Australia. The decisions by Australian Information Commissioner Professor McMillan in Parnell &  Dreyfus, and Crowe on the exempt status of incoming government briefs (IGB) under the Freedom of Information Act will please those in government who argue […]

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  • 6 June 2014

    Australian `War on Transparency’ Described

    A lengthy article by Rodney Tiffen, “The Abbott government’s war on transparency,” documents government efforts to undermine transparency in Australia. “What is at stake in these moves to reduce public transparency and public knowledge is not only who gains partisan advantage, but also, and much more importantly, the capacity of citizens and consumers to make […]

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  • 16 May 2014

    Australian Government Seeks to Close Information Office

    The four-year-old Office of Australian Information Commissioner would be abolished Jan. 1, 2015, under a plan put forward by the Abbott government. The changes would save $10.2 million over four years, according to the proposal, described in The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Open and Shut blog. Information commissioner John McMillan, privacy commissioner […]

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  • 2 May 2014

    Australian PM Decides Against Visit to Indonesia

    Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has decided not to visit Indonesia for a visit intended to sooth bilateral tensions that also might have led to cementing Australia’s tenuous membership in the Open Government Partnership. The resolution of the OGP membership question was not clear in the wake of the trip’s cancellation May 2. The Australian […]

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  • 24 April 2014

    Australia Reconsidering OGP Membership, Paper Reports

    The Australian government under Tony Abbott is “reconsidering” the previous administration’s pledge to join the Open Government Partnership, according to Sean Parnell, reporting in The Australian. An announcement at the early May regional meeting of the OGP in Bali had been widely expected, but Parnell wrote: But Attorney-General George Brandis has instead passed responsibility for […]

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  • 21 February 2014

    Ill wind in Canberra on the transparency front

    By Peter Timmins This article appeared Feb. 20 in Timmins’ Open and Shut blog. It’s still summer, it is not completely dark and gloomy (this Freedom of Information disclosure by Defence to Sean Parnell of The Australian is one to keep hope alive) but these straws plucked from the mist are telling: Tone at the […]

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  • 2 August 2013

    40 Recommendations Made in Report on Australian FOI Law

    By Peter Timmins Timmins is an Australian lawyer and consultant who works on FOI and privacy protection issues in Sydney, NSW.  His report first appeared Aug. 2 in his Open and Shut blog. Attorney General Mark Dreyfus today released the Hawke report on the review of the operation of the Freedom of Information Act  and the […]

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  • 1 July 2013

    Australian Parliament Gives Itself a FOI Exemption

    Both the House and the Senate in Australia have passed legislation to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. The debate is described in a series of posts, including this one, by Peter Timmins in his blog Open and Shut. The bills passed easily. The exemption comes in advance of the imminent release of […]

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  • 22 May 2013

    Australia to Join OGP; Membership Up to 59

    Australia May 22 announced its intention to join the Open Government Partnership, bringing membership to 59. In the recent days, the total dropped to 57 with Russia’s resignation (See previous FreedomInfo.org report) and then went up to 58 with Ireland’s decision to join (See previous FreedomInfo.org report). Australia’s decision was announced by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, […]

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  • 11 February 2013

    Australian Documents Show Very Slight Interest in OGP

    Australia’s timid thoughts on whether to join to the Open Government Partnership are now revealed in a handful of government documents released to Australian blogger Peter Timmins, who sees some recent hints that Australia might join. The internal assessments, beginning in May of 2012, exhibit what Timmins calls “limited safe within the square thinking.” One document observes […]

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  • 14 January 2013

    It’s Time for Transparency in New South Wales, Australia

    By Sean Nicholls Nicholls is the State Political Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, where this article appeared on Jan. 12. (Reprinted with permission.) Before the 2011 state election, Barry O’Farrell’s then opposition announced a lofty and noble ambition if it took power. As part of an unfolding campaign manifesto, the Coalition promised to ”pursue […]

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  • 6 December 2012

    Irish Minister Proposes Joining OGP; Others?

    A top minister in the Irish government has proposed that Ireland join the Open Government Partnership and more information has emerged about the possibility of membership by Australia, and other countries. The Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, in a Dec. 5 address stated, “I intend to bring proposals to Government shortly […]

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  • 30 November 2012

    Australian Group Creates Website for Requestors

    The Right to Know website has been created in Australia, adding to the steady growth of such sites worldwide. About 20 similar sites now exist. The newest site, run by the Open Australia Foundation, “aims to make the process easy for people who lack training in information law” and to ”shame” public servants who are […]

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  • 2 November 2012

    Hawke to Eye Australian FOI Act, Attorney General Says

    The Australian government Oct. 31 announced a review of the 1982 Freedom of Information Act. The Attorney General named an experienced government official to conduct the inquiry, Allan Hawke. Hawke’s background and the announcement are discussed in a posting by FOI blogger Peter Timmins. The review is to explore whether the law continues to “provide […]

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  • 8 October 2012

    Broader issues arising from report on FOI processing at Immigration

    By Peter Timmins This article is reprinted with permission from Open and Shut, Timmins’ blog on transparency and privacy in Australia, where it was published on Oct. 2. The Office of Australian Information Commissioner report on its own motion investigation into delays in processing “non-routine” freedom of information requests in the Department of Immigration and […]

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  • 7 May 2012

    More Fees, Discretion to Refuse FOI Requests Recommended In Australia

    By Avinesh Chand and Barry Dunphy This article appeared April 26 on the blog of the Australian Clayton Utz law firm and is reprinted with permission. Key Points: Agencies could have greater discretion to refuse freedom of information requests, and charge more fees – but applicants would get a cheaper alternative to FOI If recent […]

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  • 2 April 2012

    Australian Commissioner Proposes New FOI Fees

    Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan has proposed a new fee system for the FOI law, including a $50 application fee if a requester does not first try to access the documents through informal means. McMillan says such a charge would apply if a requester doesn’t first attempt to utilize defined “administrative access schemes” at agencies.  The […]

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  • 8 March 2012

    Forcing Open the Government in Australia

    By David Jean This article first appeared in The  Advertiser, Adelaide, Australia, on March 6, by staff writer David Jean, and is reprinted with permission. For Mark Parnell, it was a bittersweet victory. After a 20-month Freedom of Information battle that included several court appearances, the Greens MLC finally won the right to access documents relating to […]

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  • 2 May 2011

    Icons Signal Expanded Australian Disclosures

    Beginning May 1, Australian government agencies must publish a “disclosure log” listing information that has been released in response to freedom of information access requests. The logs, signaled by a uniform icon, must be updated within 10 working days of giving the FOI applicant access to the information. This disclosure is one piece of a larger […]

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  • 4 March 2011

    Aussie Group Launches Alternative Access Site

    Frustrated by a government agency’s unwillingness to post public comments online, an Australian group has launched a website to archive such comments: http://opendecisions.net/opendecisions/ “Normal practice for government departments seeking feedback on policy changes is to publish all submissions received on the web,” explains the website. The founders were irked that the Attorney General’s office decied […]

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  • 29 October 2010

    Australia Appoints Popple as First FOI Commissioner

    The Australian government Oct. 29 announced that Australia’s first Freedom of Information Commissioner will be Dr. James Popple. Popple is currently First Assistant Secretary of the Civil Law Division of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Computer Science at the Australian National University, according to a press release on […]

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  • 25 October 2010

    Changes Coming November 1 With Revised Australian FOIA

    By Peter Timmins (Australian lawyer  and consultant Peter Timmins writes Open and Shut, a blog about FOI and privacy protection in Australia.  He has Arts and Laws (Honours) degrees from the University of Sydney, is a former diplomat, and has been involved in the FOI field on both sides for 25 years.)  Changes to the Australian Government’s […]

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  • 7 September 2006

    Australia: High Court Sides with Bureaucrats, Rolling Back Right to Information

    The Australian High Court yesterday in a decision in McKinnon v. Secretary, Department of Treasury dealt a crushing blow to the country’s 24-year-old Freedom of Information Law, setting a precedent that permits government bureaucrats to deny public requests for information on the basis of broad claims of potential harm. The High Court found that Treasurer […]

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  • 28 September 2005

    International Right to Know Day 2005

    Since 2002, freedom of information advocates around the world have been working together to promote the right of access to information for all people and recognize the benefits of transparent and accountable governments. We use this day as a way to share ideas, strategies and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws […]

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  • 11 April 2003

    World Bank Plans to Expand Publicity About Competitive Bidding Opportunities

    The World Bank is moving toward a new policy that will at least double the number of contract bidding opportunities publicized internationally, according to bank officials and business sector observers. The change will substantially increase the visibility of bank-financed contracts subject to international competitive bidding, with the aim of reducing costs. If all goes well […]

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LEGAL DOCUMENTS Freedom of Information Act 1982 (including 2012 amendments)   Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations 1982   Freedom of Information (Miscellaneous Provisions) regulations 1982   Privacy Act 1988. Amended by Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000   FOI Act (New South Wales, 1989)   FOI Act (Australian Capital Territory, 1989)   FOI ACT (Queensland, 1992)   FOI Act (South Australia, 1991)   FOI Act (Victoria, 1982)   FOI Act (Western Australia, 1992)   FOI Act (Tasmania, 1991)   Information Act (Northern Territory, 2002)   GOVERNMENT   The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner   Australian Government, Attorney-General's Department, Freedom of Information page   WA Information Commissioner   Queensland Information Commissioner   Australian Research Council (ARC), Freedom of Information Guidelines   ORGANIZATIONS University of Tasmania, Freedom of Information Homepage   Transparency International Australia   Australian Press Council   New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, FOI page   OTHER RESOURCES The Australian Law Reform Commission, Open government: a review of the federal Freedom of Information Act 1982, ALRC 77, January 1995.   The urgent need for reform of Freedom of Information in Australia: A speech by Jack R Herman, Executive Secretary of the Australian Press Council, at the Public Right to Know conference, University of Technology, Sydney, 21 August 2004   HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Click to view. Text from the freedominfo.org Global Survey: Freedom of Information and Access to Government Records Around the World, by David Banisar (updated July 2006)

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Australian Constitution contains no right to information. The federal Freedom of Information Act 1982(1) provides for access to documents held by Commonwealth (national government) agencies created after 1 December 1977. The Act requires that applications are made in writing and that agencies respond within 30 days to information requests. (2) The Act contains a considerable number of exemptions, namely, for Cabinet documents, Executive Council documents, internal working documents, electoral rolls and related documents and documents affecting national security, defence or international relations, affecting relations with States, affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety, to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply, affecting financial or property interests of the Commonwealth, concerning certain operations of agencies, affecting personal privacy, subject to legal professional privilege, relating to business affairs, relating to research, affecting the national economy, containing material obtained in confidence, disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament or contempt of court and certain documents arising out of companies and securities legislation. Ministers can issue "conclusive certificates" stating that information is exempt under the provisions protecting deliberative process documents, national security and defence, Cabinet documents, and Commonwealth/State relations. These conclusive certificates cannot be reviewed during any appeal; an appeal body is only allowed to consider whether it was reasonable for the Minister to claim that the provisions of the exemption were satisfied. The Act also contains a variety of "public interest" provisions depending on the type of information to which the exemption relates. For example, the exemptions relating to disclosures which would affect relations with States, the financial or property interests of the Commonwealth or the national economy, documents concerning certain operations of agencies and internal working documents are all subject to public interest tests. The High Court of Australia is soon to consider a landmark case regarding how the public interest test is to be considered where a Minister has issued a conclusive certificate that the relevant documents are exempt "in the public interest".(3) The Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Full Federal Court have already ruled that a Minister need only show that the specific public interest ground raised is reasonable, where the appellant (Michael McKinnon of The Australian newspaper) continues to argue that the Minister show that issuing a certificate was reasonable after balancing competing public interest considerations. Under the Act, applicants have a number of different appeal avenues. They can appeal internally unless the original decision was made by the Minister or the head of the public authority, and then request a merits review(4) by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (which can issue binding decisions), followed by appeals on possible errors of law to the Federal Court or High Court. The AAT can also make recommendations on certificates which can be ignored by the Minister who must then advise the Parliament of the decision. In addition, an applicant can make a complaint at any time on matters of administration to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.(5) The Ombudsman's decisions are not binding. There were 39,265 information requests between July 2004 and June 2005, a decrease of 3,362 (7.9 percent) compared with 2003-04.(6) As with previous years, over 90 percent of those requests were for personal information, mostly to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and Centrelink. Between 1 December 1982 and 30 June 2005, Commonwealth agencies received a total of 724,650 access requests. In 2004-2005, there were 508 requests made for internal review, of which 339 related to decisions regarding documents containing 'personal' information. 421 decisions were made on internal review - 56 percent upheld the agency decision and 44 percent resulted in the agency conceding additional materials. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal received 142 appeals and decided 130 appeals. The Commonwealth Ombudsman received 275 complaints and finalised 289 complaints about the way that Australian Government agencies handled requests under the FOI Act. There are many criticisms of the effectiveness of the Act.(7) The Australian Law Reform Commission and the Administrative Review Council released a joint report in January 1995 calling for substantial changes to improve the law. The review called for the creation of an office of the FOI Commissioner, making the Act more pro-disclosure, limiting exemptions, reviewing secrecy provisions and limiting charges.(8) In June 1999, the Commonwealth Ombudsman found "widespread problems in the recording of FOI decisions and probable misuse of exemptions to the disclosure of information under the legislation" and recommended changes to the Act and the creation of an oversight agency.(9) The Senate held an inquiry in April 2001 on a private members amendment bill to adopt the recommendations of the ALRC and ARC report but to date there have been no substantive changes in the Act.(10) However, an amendment to exempt information on Internet sites banned by the Australian Broadcasting Authority was approved in 2003.(11) More recently, in February 2006 the Ombudsman released a report on the Act which strongly recommended that the Government establish an FOI Commissioner, possibly as a specialized and separately funded unit in the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.(12) The key was to ensure that an independent body would be tasked with monitoring and promoting the law. The Ombudsman's report more generally found that requests were often not acknowledged and delayed and that there is still an uneven culture of support for FOI among government agencies, even 20 years after its enactment. It has been previously noted that budget cuts have severely restricted the capacity of the Attorney General's Department and the Ombudsman to support the Act and there is now little central direction, guidance or monitoring. Under the Archives Act, most documents are available after 30 years. Cabinet notebooks are closed for 50 years.(13) There is still a small access gap for records for the years between 1976 and 1977. The Crimes Act provides for punishment for the release of information without authorization.(14) The National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Act 2004 was approved by Parliament in December 2004. It regulates the use of national security information in trials. The adoption followed the Australian Law Reform Commission report Keeping Secrets: The Protection of Classified and Security Sensitive Information in June 2004.(15) In 2005, the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act, 2005 Defence Signals Directorate and the Defence Intelligence Organisation was passed, Schedule 7 of which exempts the Defence Signals Directorate and the Defence Intelligence Organisation from the Act. Notably, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIO) and the Office of National Assessments (ONA) were already exempt. As noted above, Privacy Act requests for access to personal information are funneled through the FOI. The Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 gives individuals the right to access records about themselves held by private parties.(16) All six states and two territories now have freedom of information laws. (17) There are also privacy acts in most states and territories.(18) 2004 freedominfo.org Global Survey Results - Australia   NOTES 1. Freedom of Information Act 1982, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/foia1982222/, Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations 1982, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_reg/foiacr432/index.html, Freedom of Information (Miscellaneous Provisions) regulations 1982 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_reg/foipr612/index.html. 2.For an overview of FOI laws in Australia and links to relevant government sites, see the University of Tasmania's FOI Review web pages at http://www.comlaw.utas.edu.au/law/foi/. High Court test case on Costello FOI, The Australian, 4 February 2006. Merits review is characterised by the capacity for substitution of the decision of the reviewing person or body for that of the original decision maker. This means that the AAT considers the facts, law and policy aspects of the original decision afresh, and can make a new decision affirming, varying or setting aside the original decision. Homepage: http://www.comb.gov.au/ Attorney-General's Department, Freedom of Information Act 1982 Annual Report 2004-05. Available at http://www.ag.gov.au/foi See Matthew Ricketson, Keeping the lid on information, The Age, November 28 2002. The Australian Law Reform Commission, Open government: a review of the federal Freedom of Information Act 1982, ALRC 77, January 1995. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/alrc/publications/reports/77/ALRC77.html. Commonwealth Ombudsman, 'Needs to Know' Own motion investigation into the administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 in Commonwealth agencies, June 1999. http://www.comb.gov.au/publications_information/Special_Reports/NeedstoKnow.pdf. Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, "Inquiry into the Freedom of Information Amendment (Open Government) Bill 2000, April 2001. http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/legcon_ctte/freedom/report/report.pdf See Electronic Frontiers Australia, Amendments to FOI Act: Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 2002. Available at http://www.efa.org.au/FOI/clabill2002/ There are Information Commissions in the States of Queensland and Western Australia and in the Northern Territory. See Commonwealth Ombudsman, Scrutinising government - Administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 in Australian government agencies, March 2006. http://www.comb.gov.au/publications_information/Special_Reports/2006/FOI_report_March2006.pdf See National Archives, The Cabinet Notebooks. http://www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/cabinet.html The Crimes Act. http://scaletext.law.gov.au/html/pasteact/0/28/top.htm http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/alrc/publications/reports/98/ Privacy Act 1988. Amended by Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000. http://www.privacy.gov.au/publications/privacy88_240103.doc See Australian Privacy Foundation, Privacy Laws - States and Territories of Australia. http://www.privacy.org.au/Resources/PLawsST.html Id.

 

 

Measuring Openness

Global Right to Information Rating
A country-by-country rating of laws by the Centre for Democracy and Law and Access Info.

Freedom House
The Freedom in the World report.

World Bank
Worldwide Governance Indicators

Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index
Measures perceptions of the degree of corruption.

Reporters Without Borders
The Press Freedom Index.