The Sydney Morning Herald’s Freedom of Information editor wonders why Australians aren’t more concerned about the lack of transparent government:
What do the following countries have in common? Sierra Leone, India, Romania, Albania, the Philippines and Colombia? No ideas? What about if the list includes Britain, USA, Latvia and Spain? Still no clue?
Then it probably won’t help much to add Russia, Mongolia, Nigeria and Bulgaria and others that bring the total to more than 30.
OK, there’s not much that unites this disparate bunch except the fact that all of them have non-government groups pushing and struggling to get freedom of information laws that work.
Australia, though, is missing from the list.
The Commonwealth Government passed its Freedom of Information Act in 1982, decades ahead of many other countries and the states have all followed since. But nowhere are there pressure groups fighting to make the laws work the way they were supposed to.
There was once. The Commonwealth FoI law was passed after a group called the FoI Legislation Campaign Committee got together in the 1970s to push for the legislation. But it packed up once the law was enacted.
These days there’s no organised resistance to stop these rights from being whittled away, even within the media where you’d expect self-interest might have spawned groups to fight for FoI.
As a comparison, check out the situation in Canada. Governments are always reflexively secretive, but public interest groups seem more concerned about this in many overseas countries.