FOI laws fail those under flight paths
Posted on Thursday, 13 May 2010
Speaking in the Parliament on a Bill to improve access to information under the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, the Hon Judi Moylan MP said: “It will take more than black letter law to ensure that citizens have access to information. It will take a shift in the mindset of those in control of the information.”
Changes to charging practices and earlier release of Cabinet notebooks are welcome, but the annual Report to Parliament over the Christmas showed that only 71 per cent of requests were granted in 2008/9 compared to 80.6 per cent under the former Government, so people can be excused for feeling cynical about changes to the black letter law.
In fact, it is curious that the Australian Federal Police refused in full only 16.6 per cent of all freedom of information applications received, but the Civil Aviation Safety Authority refused 34.69 per cent.
Mrs Moylan illustrated the public’s frustration about the operation of FOI outlining her own experience seeking information from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority on behalf of her Constituents.
Mrs Moylan was told by Air Services Australia that the flight path changes were necessary as “the Civil Aviation Safety Authority found changes to air routes were required to maintain safety, reduce complexity and cope with the rapid and predicted continued increase in air traffic.”
Seeking the CASA Report on behalf of affected Constituents proved to be a fruitless exercise. First denied the Report by Air Services Australia and then paying for and receiving the Report from CASA with most of the ten pages blacked out.
Mrs Moylan said her experience highlights the overly legalistic approach so often applied to FOI requests. “If I as a Member of the Federal Parliament cannot access this information, what chances do individual community members have?
“It is time for open and accountable governance. It is the right of all community members in a democracy to be able to access information, particularly in relation to their own record, which can often warrant correction. “There is no true democracy where there is no true open debate. And, how can there be debate without information?”