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Right to Information

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Tags: Right to Information, Transparency

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I understand why the Government would want to muster as much time as possible.

Ms Archer - Don't make something up. Ready to go Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is the form of the House in matters of public importance that the Government typically speaks second on matters -

Ms Archer - No, we don't.

Dr WOODRUFF - but the Government is very reluctant to come and stand in front of cameras and be heard to speak on this issue at all. It is really all about secrecy.

Ms ARCHER - Point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I highlight to Dr Woodruff that there is no standing order compelling the minister to speak second only on MPIs.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Thank you, Dr Woodruff, you may resume.

Dr WOODRUFF - Madam Deputy Speaker, the community has been talking since the Liberal Government came in nearly seven years ago now. It started as a slow murmur, and is now a tsunami of shouting from the community about the incredible secrecy around getting information about standard government processes. The types of right to information requests that were quickly and simply dispatched under the Labor Greens Government started to slow from 2014, and have now come to a grinding halt.

The Ombudsman's report this year makes it very apparent, and the graphics are quite astounding. If anyone who is watching the webcast managed to see the ABC's report last night, the figures could not be starker: Tasmania is 750 per cent worse in releasing RTIs than the worst other state in Australia. We are the worst performer when it comes to transparency. We are the worst performer when it comes to openness about our processes in government.

The Liberals have a pattern of deliberate refusal and of obfuscation, and it has been fostered systematically. Its systematic refusals or denials and repeated attempts to fiddle with the process and to hold up the time line mean that applicants are left hanging, not only for months but for years under this Government. I was reminded of now Senator McKim who, when he was member for Franklin, put a request in for an external review from the Ombudsman in late 2014. Mr McKim is a senator now but that request was finally answered by the Ombudsman five years later. It came back last year.

We have had many examples in the Greens. Two RTIs were submitted with Communities Tasmania. They were submitted on 7 September, the fee waiver was accepted on 23 September; then it took 13 working days to check if Ms O'Connor, Leader of the Greens, was a member of parliament. This is now becoming a standard tactic used by RTI officers, who are under the pump to do everything they can to slow down uncomfortable right to information requests.

On 7 October, a clarification was requested for one of the RTIs, a month after it had been received. On 9 October, clarification was submitted, but there was never any acknowledgment from the RTI officer that the clarification was received. The disclosure deadline was 21 October and on 26 October we sent an email find out what was happening with the RTI. Our read receipt shows that the message was read but was never replied to.

On 2 November, Ms O'Connor emailed with another follow up request about the status of the RTI. That message was never replied to. By 18 November, 40 working days had elapsed since the fee waiver was accepted. That is twice the statutory time frame. To be clear, the RTI officer has not replied to any correspondence from the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens since 7 October. There have been no requests for extension from them and no explanation. That example was in Communities Tasmania but the same thing happens in our GBEs.

Hydro has used a legal firm to delay and obfuscate important right to information requests we had about human rights issues occurring in Uganda. The Ombudsman contacted Hydro about our RTI request and was told they understand the first two decisions were invalid by Hydro due to jurisdictional errors that have still not been rectified. The applicant requested that information 18 months ago and our office has been chasing it for nine months. For nine months, Hydro refused to provide information to the Ombudsman's office about our right to information request.

In May this year, after two basic and systemic failures from Hydro, the Ombudsman asked for the matter to be actioned with some urgency. We are still to hear anything from you.

Finally, on 25 May, the Ombudsman office said to Hydro -

We appreciate you only just getting this matter before you now but the applicant has waited an undue amount of time so far on very simple and avoidable mistakes.

The Premier said this morning he would be speaking to the Ombudsman and seeking to do data analysis to understand what the problem is. It is pretty clear the problem has nothing to do with the data. It has everything to do with ministerial influence and a culture within the Government and ministerial offices of doing everything possible to resist providing information to the public that they ought to have access to on uncomfortable realities.