The Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 makes a number of proposals which will radically change the Commonwealth freedom of information regime. This includes abolishing the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which will mean the loss of an independent advocate for open government. It will also mean that in future an appeal against a decision of a government department refusing access to a document under the FOI Act will lie only to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Bill was passed by the House of Representatives and referred to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on 31 October 2014. In this submission, PIAC outlines its belief, based on its legal casework, that this Bill will undermine the broader objectives of the FOI Act and will ultimately act as a deterrent to those who seek to exercise their right to information. PIAC has recommended that the Bill be deferred until a proper consultation can be carried out. If the Committee is minded to recommend the Bill be passed, PIAC makes a number of recommendations which will go some way to mitigate the Bill’s impact on the FOI regime, such as abolishing all fees and charges for access to information and committing to review the agencies and broad categories which are exempt from the Act.
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