Information has been quoted as being ‘the currency of democracy’ and the fundamental right of a citizen as it not only ensures government transparency, but also diminishes any segregation between the government and those which whom they govern. Since its enactment in 1982, the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (‘the Act’ hereafter) has facilitated public access to certain, previously privileged, documents for the purpose of ensuring accuracy of personal information and, more importantly, to increase government accountability. The Act signified a new era which subverted a long standing tradition of government secrecy.
The ability to access documents however has not been without asperity, and there has been increasing debate indicating a need for reform to restore the Act to a state where it can fulfil its primary purpose. This essay will discuss the purpose of the Act and its subjection to reform. In particular, this essay will examine the implications of s36 of the Act which purports to render certain exempted documents as exclusions to the Act, by reason of being a matter contrary to public interest. This section has been the premise for several applications at Administrative Appeals Tribunals of which two will be discussed in detail as they outlaid a test for the statutory interpretation of s36.
Purpose of the Act:
The freedom of information tool is supposed to be serve as a powerful democratic tool to allow members of the public, and the media to access documents to appraise their integrity, however, the Act which provides the power has been described as a ‘blunt’ and ‘useless weapon’ by its commentators. Those who wish to exercise the right to access documents pursuant to the Act often fall victim to wrongly applied exemptions and transaction costs which make the process of obtaining a document less appealing.
Section 3 of the Act explicitly provides that the object of the Act is to extend as far as possible, the right of...