Exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act: An Official's Viewpoint

Publication Date01 June 1983
AuthorA D Rose
DOI10.1177/0067205X8301400201
Date01 June 1983
SubjectArticle
EXEMPTIONS
UNDER
THE
FREEDOM
OF
INFORMATION
ACf:
AN
OFFICIAL'S
VIEWPOINT
AD
RosE*
Mr Bayne in addressing the topic
of
the exemptions under the Freedom
of
Information Act 1982
("FOI
Act")
has concentrated his analysis on and dealt
at some length with, the provisions
of
Part
IV
-Exempt Documents.
To
achieve a balanced understanding
of
the role and significance
of
the
exemptions I believe one needs
in
addition to see how the FOI Act
fits
into the
broader context
of
arrangements for access to official information.
There are
other
qualifications and limits set on the application
of
the
"legally enforceable
right"
in
s II which might also be considered usefully
in
the context
of
exemptions.
It
is
in addition important as Mr Bayne has indicated in dealing with, for
example, s 36 to take account
of
the requirements
of
ss
8 and 9
of
the FOI Act
if the application
of
Part
IV
is
to be seen
in
proper context.
I propose therefore
to
address these matters before commenting on selected
issues raised by Mr Bayne with respect to particular exemptions
in
Part IV.
The Broader Context
The
FOI Act forms part
of
but does not replace
other
voluntary and com-
pulsory arrangements for making available official information through
executive, administrative, judicial and parliamentary processes
ass
14
makes
clear.
It
is
the distinctive combination
of
features -compulsory process, lack
of
any need to establish a special interest in those seeking access and the ability
for final decisions
in
many cases to be made outside the Executive which sets
the FOI Act apart from the other processes for obtaining access to official
information within the closed archival period. It
is
this combination which sets
the FOI Act apart as a radical innovation.
Other
parts
of
the regime involve compulsory processes, for example,
provision
of
information to the Parliament
in
the exercise
of
its powers, in
judicial proceedings and before executive inquiries such as royal commisions.
In each
of
these circumstances final decisions about the provision
of
infor-
mation lie beyond the control
of
Ministers and officials. But in each case parti-
cular interests need to be established before access to official information
is
obtained. And access
is
obtained to advance particular lines
of
relevant argu-
ment
or
inquiry.
The
FOI Act is, however, predicated on a lack
of
any requirement to
establish a particular interest
in
the applicant. Nor has any particular purpose
to be established.
The
potential
is
therefore raised immediately, if the right
of
access were to remain unqualified, to disrupt effective political decision-
making and for administration to be made far more difficult than under
existing traditional arrangements
through:-
removing the issue
of
relevance;
*BA, LLB
(Hons)
(Qld), LLM (Lond); Deputy Secretary
of
the Department
of
Prime Minister
and Cabinet, Canberra.

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