Freedom of information

Moira Paterson, Matthew Groves, H. P. Lee

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Judicial review and responsible government both have an important role to play in ensuring legality and accountability in executive decision-making. Freedom of Information (FOI) laws enhance the operation of those mechanisms while supplementing them with a more direct form of accountability to the people. They also make a substantial contribution to information privacy by providing an avenue for access to, and amendment of, personal records held by governmental agencies. This chapter is concerned exclusively with FOI laws. Other laws which provide alternative sources of access to public sector information include information privacy and health records statutes, public records statutes, requirements for administrative decision makers to provide reasons for their decisions (see Chapter 11), other common law duties of disclosure and laws which require the proactive disclosure of information, including information about government contracts. The concept of a statutory right of access to information originated in Sweden in the seventeenth century, but first attracted attention in Australia following the enactment of the FOI legislation in the United States in 1967. The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (the Commonwealth FOI Act), which will form the main subject of this chapter, formed the final element of the Commonwealth's so called ‘New Administrative Law’ package and is confined in its operation to the Commonwealth public sector. It was the first national legislation to be adopted by a country with a Westminster-style system of government and had its origins in a commitment by the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 to enact legislation along the lines of the United States legislation, although its enactment was delayed until 1982 while it was considered by a number of government bodies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAustralian Administrative Law
Subtitle of host publicationFundamentals, Principles and Doctrines
EditorsMatthew Groves, H. P. Lee
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139168618
ISBN (Print)9780521697903
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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