Better access to information rights needed during COVID-19

By Amy Sarcevic
Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

Better access to information rights needed during COVID-19

The Australian Information Access Commissioners have joined forces with their international peers to demand better transparency from public authorities, during COVID-19.

The International Conference of Information Commissioners — in a joint statement supported by Australian federal, state and territory commissioners — claims that current rights to access information aren’t strong enough, given the nature of government decision-making, during the pandemic.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the lives of citizens have been profoundly impacted by decisions affecting public health, prosperity and civil liberties.

In Australia, more than 1 million people have lost their jobs as a result of social distancing measures; elective surgeries have been cancelled; and there are nationwide travel restrictions in place.

During this time, the commissioners recognise that more urgent matters may have superseded the government’s usual information rights work. However, they argue it is still vitally important for citizens not to be kept in the dark.

They would like to see enhanced rights, including quicker responses to any information requests from members of the general public, and overall better transparency of decision-making criteria.

They also argue that effective record keeping from public bodies is key in what will become a “much analysed period of history”.

In a statement the commissioners said, “International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) supports a flexible approach that takes into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency, while safeguarding the values of the right to access information. We ask governments to support this vision.

“We add our support and gratitude to those who are dedicated to tackling the current pandemic.”

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