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Access stalled ... Amendment to bill releasing official government documents delayed

Published:Thursday | December 10, 2015 | 11:32 AM

Some four years after a joint select committee of Parliament delivered a report on the Access to Information (ATI) Act, the Government is yet to make any real attempts to incorporate the far-reaching changes that have been suggested.

Phillip Paulwell, the leader of government business in the House of Representatives, said that a Cabinet submission is now being prepared by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Gregory Mair, who served on the committee which conducted the mandatory review of the ATI Act, has been pushing for answers about when the law would be amended.

Mair, the North East St Catherine member of parliament, had tabled questions for Paulwell to answer. On Tuesday, Paulwell said that the Cabinet submission, which is being prepared, will lead to drafting instructions being given to the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for the ATI Act to be amended.

"The Office of the Prime Minister aims to have the Bill amending the Access to Information Act tabled by the first quarter of 2016," Paulwell said.

The ATI is a framework which allows for persons to access official government documents, while promoting freedom of information.

However, certain information is not available to the public.

The report, which was approved by the House of Representatives in 2011, calls for the Official Secrets Act to be repealed and replaced by an act that would include penalties for the release of information that would put the State at risk.

Public interest

It also proposed that greater consideration be given to public interest when requests for documents deemed exempt are made.

"It is recommended that there be an effective public interest override which will help to ensure a balance between the application of exemptions and the release of information under the Act," the report said.

The additional recommendations are that the procedure for processing telephone requests be improved; fee-payment systems and payment for delivery by registered mail be progressed; enforcement of statutory codes of practice on the discharge of functions under the ATI Act be developed; the creation of customer-evaluation forms specifically related to the processing of access to information requests; and the appointment of a full-time person to the Appeals Tribunal to handle appeals.