Beanland u-turns on FOI

by Chris Griffith
Published 20 Oct 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


C IVIL libertarians yesterday challenged Attorney-General Denver Beanland to break ranks with State Cabinet over Queensland's ailing Freedom of Information laws.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Ian Dearden said that in Opposition, Mr Beanland had been a fervent critic of the "gelding" of FOI laws by the former Goss government.

He said Mr Beanland had been outspoken when the Government twice changed the FOI laws to exempt documents which remotely could be classified as Cabinet documents in 1993 and 1995.

But in April this year, Mr Beanland had claimed the Coalition had never promised to fix up the FOI laws - and the government's election commitments had priority.

"In Opposition, Mr Beanland was an enthusiastic and regular FOI user.

"Yet it now appears his regular and outspoken opposition to the Goss government's changes were not to be interpreted as a commitment to repealing these changes in government.

"Perhaps the Attorney should have told us to read the fine print of his words."

On the issue of repealing the previous government's Cabinet exemption, Mr Dearden said Mr Beanland's policy adviser David Fraser had written to the Council saying "Cabinet simply decided to defer consideration of this issue".

Mr Dearden said in this case, Mr Beanland should break ranks with Cabinet, publicly lobby for the changes to occur, and put his reputation on the line.

"This reversal of the Cabinet exemptions can be done with little more than the stroke of a pen and a quick passage through parliament. Where there's a will, there's a way.

"However, it appears the worm has turned and the poacher has turned gamekeeper and lost the enthusiasm for open and accountable government."

Yesterday Mr Beanland said the government still intended looking at the FOI laws but not until next year.

He also said the anti-discrimination laws, changes to the Criminal Code and to disciplinary arrangements for solicitors had priority.

"You can only do one or two things at a time."

He said that as a Minister, he was bound not to breach Cabinet solidarity.

The 1989 Fitzgerald report recommended Freedom of information as an accountability measure. The law gives citizens access to government records and internal government documents - except where exemptions apply.