Someone to Watch Over Me: The Use of FOI Requests by the Tobacco Industry
(2014) 22(1) Australian Journal of Administrative Law 18-42
25 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2014 Last revised: 21 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 6, 2014
Australia’s freedom of information (FOI) regime was amended in 2010 to embody a pro-disclosure culture within government, attempting to balance improved accessibility to government information with protecting agencies from abusive and unreasonable FOI requests. Through a case study of the tobacco industry’s use of FOI requests, this article examines whether that balance has been properly struck. The article examines the operation of Australia’s FOI regime, its use by tobacco companies, the adequacy of current FOI protections to allow agencies to deal with unreasonable requests, and potential amendments to remedy deficiencies in Australia’s FOI regime, including pursuant to the recent Hawke Review. The article suggests that further reform is needed to discourage unnecessary and vexatious FOI requests and prevent wasteful use of agency time and resources. In particular, the article recommends the institution of a tiered charging regime, whereby small to moderate requests would be free or at low cost, and larger requests would be subject to more onerous charges that better reflect the requests’ cost to government.
Keywords: freedom of information, FOI, tobacco, Hawke Review, administrative law
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