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Inaugural Professorial Address : Twenty years of open government - what have we learnt? :

CollectionsANU College of Law
Title: Inaugural Professorial Address : Twenty years of open government - what have we learnt? :
Author(s): McMillan, John
Keywords: open government;legal doctrine;Freedom of Information Act;government framework
Publisher: The Australian National University
[Introduction]:...The choice of topic was, for me, an easy one. The campaign for open government was the first topic on which I developed an academic and professional interest. That was at a time, in the early 1970s, when the concept of open government did not enjoy widespread acceptance. The mood was aptly captured a little later by Sir Arnold Robinson’s explanation to Sir Humphrey Appleby – “Open government is a contradiction in terms. You can be open – or you can have government”. Sir Humphrey agreed: the word “secretary”, he noted, is after all a derivative of “secret”.... The first assurance of change was a promise by the new Whitlam Government in 1972 to enact a freedom of information Act along the lines of the 1967 United States law. The realisation of that promise, ten years later, was a confirmation that government was changing, but of how difficult it was to accomplish that change. The intervening development of the legislative model told the story. An interdepartmental committee appointed by the Government to develop a legislative model took nearly two years to prepare its report of 18 pages. Sent back to the drawing board, it returned two years later with a report that had grown to 100 pages. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs then took control of the reform agenda, conducting hearings around Australia, receiving submissions in support of a stronger law from over 125 individuals, public interest groups, unions and professional associations, and delivering finally a report of over 500 pages, heralded at the time as one of the finest products of the Senate committee system. The momentum was sustained when six government senators crossed the floor to vote with the Opposition in favour of a stronger FOI law..... The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) was a part, a small but vital part, of the revolution in government and thinking that occurred in Australia. The Act thus serves as a barometer of sorts for measuring the strength of government commitment to openness. I want to return to that issue –problems with the FOI Act, and contemporary challenges to open government – but before doing so it is important to paint a fuller picture of the current structural basis for open government in Australia. I will look at three areas of structural support – legal doctrine, the framework of government, and our philosophy of government.
ISSN: 1328-7788


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