17 Jun. 2006

Freedom of Information in Australia

This post is commentary on this smh.com.au newsblog post

Even the best freedom of information (FOI) laws have limited usefulness. That information is freely available does not mean that we know it exists or know it is important or know how to extrapolate its importance from its manifest contents. Moreover, the right to access information carries with it the danger of complacency, that people will assume that as long as it can be accessed, everything must be right with it, and not actually access it.

Australia's FOI laws are apparently a smokescreen to encourage complacency, which in fact do not deliver the goods either. For starters, Australia's freedom of information is anything but 'free'. In fact, it is very costly. Because government reserves the right to charge people who want information for the cost of finding it out, which is often apparently quite high, despite the fact that the government itself has in all cases already had reports produced internally at taxpayer expense. And because government reserves the right not actually to release information even after its retrieval has been paid for on all sorts of grounds.

It seems from the SMH's experiences that one must in fact be rich to have any hope of getting information from the government, and even then they'll throw expensive lawyers at you in a war of attrition. The lesson is clear: the federal government is hiding something. And I therefore want to know what it is, where I didn't care before. The SMH's probing has found something, namely that there is something fishy with the government's Welfare to Work programme that they don't want us to know about.