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Monday, 13 May 2019

Concerns about omnibus bill stripping FOI rights

The ACT Law Society today urged the Government to immediately withdraw part of an omnibus bill listed to be passed by the Legislative Assembly tomorrow. If passed, the Bill will remove the right of a person to obtain information about themselves held under the Children and Young People Act 2008.

The bill in question is the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, currently before the Assembly to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2016 (FOI Act).

Ordinarily, omnibus bills are used for uncontroversial and technical amendments, however Section 17 of this Bill is anything but.

Section 17 of the Bill will remove the right of a person to use the FOI Act to obtain information about themselves held by officials under the Children and Young People Act 2008. This would include care and protection reports and appraisals, family group conferencing information, and contravention reports.

Indeed, an adult, having been under these regulations as a child, would be unable to obtain information about themselves.

The government has defended the proposed provision by saying it would prevent the release of material that “could reveal the identity of a … reporter” of sensitive information. Plainly, the FOI Act already covers such instances, and it is common for documents obtained under FOI to be redacted of sensitive information.

This change is a serious variation to a person’s existing rights to information, and its inclusion in an omnibus bill looks like an attempt to hide the change. It is not a minor technical amendment (as claimed by the minister), but a substantial change which seriously affects people’s rights to information.

The Law Society calls on the Assembly to withdraw Section 17 of the Omnibus Bill and refer it to a committee for open and public consideration as to why this additional level of secrecy is required — is it indeed about the rights of children and young people, or the protection of officials?

For further information contact:
Mr Chris Donohue, President, ACT Law Society, T 02 6274 0300, M 0418 633 836