Freedom of information to extend to the private sector?

Federal Government revisits question of whether Freedom of Information Act should apply to the private sector

The Federal Government is revisiting the question of whether the Freedom of Information Act should apply to the private sector.

On March 24, the Government commenced a review of privacy laws in Australia and reform of FOI.

Previously, the private sector had no obligation under the regime to be accountable to the community.

In 1996, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) came to the decision that the Act should not stretch to private entities.

It agreed private sector bodies should be under no obligation to disclose their documents to the public.

However, the Government has yet again queried the ALRC on increased transparency within privately-owned businesses.

Although the Government is yet to release further details, law firm Blake Dawson says the theory is that individuals, businesses and the media can lodge FOI requests to companies.

Unless the sought-after information falls within exemption criteria as per a normal FOI request, the private business is obliged to disclose the information.

The Government has asked the ALRC to re-consider whether FOI should be extended to, or another regime provided for, the private sector.

Implementation of the re-vamped FOI laws is planned for the beginning of 2010, but the question of whether or not it will apply to the private sector remains unanswered.

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