Freedom of Information is key to public transparency

Morning View
Morning View

The government announced yesterday that there will be no major changes to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

An independent review found that that legislation was “generally working well”.

Newspapers such as this one had no doubt that FOI had become a key part of the transparency that the public expects in modern governance.

Many excesses with public funds or bad decision making processes have been uncovered by FOI.

A problem in recent decades has been the combination of the growth in government and the public sector, which costs taxpayers a vast amount of money, alongside a lack of transparency (prior to FOI) about how that money is spent or why it is spent in that way.

FOI has overhauled that. Officials know that there will be much greater scrutiny of their decisions and choices than there was 20 years ago.

Journalism flourishes in a free environment but also helps to keep society free and on the right tracks. It is a virtuous circle.

There are of course limits to freedom of information.

Delicate security matters cannot all be divulged.

There also have to be curbs on queries that can cost officials a disproportionate amount of time and money to compile. Governments and civil servants must be able to protect themselves from vexatious seekers of limitless information.

It is understandable that the government considered introducing fees for information requests, but it is nonetheless important that it abandoned any such move.

As the Independent Commission’s report into the operation of FOI found, there is in fact a need to increase the right of access in some areas.

There is a balance between the competing rights to a free flow of information and the right of a government not to be paralysed by full disclosure at all times. But the current arrangements strike the balance well, and society is healthier for it.