International Right to Know day – a reason to celebrate

27 September 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Today, September 28, is the 8th annual International Right to Know Day.

 Although you may not (in fact a safer bet is that you probably won’t) see, read or hear much about International Right to Know Day in Australia’s mainstream media, over 40 nations around the globe will be taking part in activities designed to promote the need for open and transparent governments and the need for effective Freedom of Information legislation. 

On this day in 2002, Freedom of Information organisations meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, decided to create a coalition known as the Freedom of Information Advocates Network who agreed to promote transparency as a fundamental pillar of democracy on the world stage.

This network now has a growing number of civil society and non-governmental groups in countries such as Canada, Britain, New Zealand, USA, Russia, Mongolia and even Nigeria, all pushing and struggling for their countries to get freedom of information laws that work. 

And while Australia is absent from any ‘formal participation’ on this day according to the FOIA Network, the Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner is starting to change that. It is time the rest of Australia got on board. 

Today, Brisbane’s Sofitel Hotel will be the venue for day two of a two-day event to coincide with International Right to Know Day. It is the second year in a row now that the Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner in partnership with the Queensland State Government has hosted what they call the ‘Right to Information Day’.  

This day was spurred on by the September 2007, independent review of Queensland’s freedom of information legislation, chaired by Dr David Solomon AM and aims to celebrate these reforms. 

The review found that a new approach was needed from the Government, putting forward 141 recommendations for reform. The Bligh government accepted in full or in part most of the recommendations of the FOI review and as a result Queensland has a new regulatory framework, the Right to Information Act 2009

Queensland Information Commissioner, Julie Kinross said: ‘A more informed community is one that can better scrutinise government making it more accountable, contribute to public debate and solve problems. 

‘These events celebrate right to information reform and present a great opportunity to champion the new open access regime across the public sector.’

And with a new era of government accountability set to begin at a federal level from November 1 this year, Australians everywhere should be jumping on this bandwagon of International Right to Know Day and celebrating.

The Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 received Royal Assent on 31 May this year, and contain the most significant changes to the Federal FOI regime since its inception in 1982. 

These changes are designed to make it easier for media companies and the public at large to gain access to official documents and publish information in the public interest. 

The laws will create a pro-disclosure culture within the walls of government that will be policed by a new watchdog, the Freedom of Information Commissioner, who will act as an independent monitor for the new laws. 

Over coming weeks I will be writing a series of articles for Upstart regarding FoI and the changes that are due to come into play on November 1. Through a series of interviews with media law experts and journalists I hope to explain for you how Freedom of Information works and why it has taken 28 long years to change this somewhat problematic law.

Perrin Brown is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University studying Australia’s Freedom of Information law.