Environmental Defenders Office has written an open letter alongside five leading civil society organisations to Premier Jeremy Rockliff urging him to urgently fix problems that are plaguing Tasmania’s failing Right to Information system.
The letter says:
In recent years, there has been a mounting perception that Tasmanian government agencies are increasingly obstructing public access to information.
While the Tasmanian Government has emphasised its commitment to governing with openness, fairness and transparency, concerning new data has been published that confirms there is an urgent need for action to fix problems that are plaguing Tasmania’s failing RTI system.
RTI is a critical component of Australia’s system of government and helps to ensure that decision- makers are accountable for their decisions. A well-functioning RTI system helps maintain trust in our political system.
The right to information is enshrined in several international agreements, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The letter calls on the Tasmanian Government to back its commitment to governing with openness, fairness and transparency by taking urgent action to fix Tasmania’s failing RTI system, including by commissioning an independent review of the implementation of the RTI Act and reforming the RTI Act to ensure that there is a clear presumption in favour of the public disclosure of information.
The joint open letter comes off the back of the release of EDO’s Transparent failure: Tasmania’s ineffective right to information system and how to fix it, a report that found Tasmania to be the most secretive state in Australia.
The report, which was based on data from all states, found Tasmania had the highest rate of RTI refusals; a high rate of errors when assessing RTI claims; unacceptably slow review times; a large and growing backlog of unresolved reviews; and a low level of government accountability.
Environmental Defenders Office Managing Lawyer (lutruwita/Tasmania) Claire Bookless said: “Without ready access to government information about the environment and decisions that may affect it, the work of those trying to protect the environment, such as EDO and its clients, is severely undermined.
“Tasmania’s State of the Environment report is now nearly a decade overdue. In its absence, EDO and our clients have had to fight tooth and nail for the release of information concerning the management and regulation of our environment, often having to wait many years for this information to be released.
“EDO’s report on how the right to information system is implemented in Tasmania shows unequivocally how that system is letting down both our democracy and our environment. However, our report also provides clear solutions to the problems identified.
“Undoubtedly, Tasmania’s right to information system needs an urgent overhaul. We call on the Tasmanian Government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and accountability by taking the actions we have outlined in our open letter and report.”
Australia Institute Tasmania Director Eloise Carr said: “Transparency in government decision-making is fundamental to a healthy democracy. The rates of refusals and errors in right to information decisions in Tasmania are unacceptable, as is the length of time it takes to have these decisions reviewed and overturned. The Tasmanian Government needs to demonstrate its commitment to improved transparency and accountability by properly resourcing the right to information system and reviewing the law to make sure it is still fit for purpose.”
Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania State Director Sophie Underwood said: “Good planning decisions require informed community engagement and input. Without access to information about developments, it is difficult, if not impossible for people to properly engage with the assessment processes or exercise their rights to get involved.
“That is why Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania is so alarmed about the poor recognition of the community’s right to information by public bodies, including councils. We call on the Tasmanian Government to urgently take action to fix the right to information system, which is currently failing Tasmanian communities.”
- Sophie Underwood, State Director, Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania (PMAT)
- Jane Hutchison, Community Legal Centres Tasmania
- Adrienne Picone, Chief Executive Officer, Tasmanian Council of Social Service
- Eloise Carr, Tasmanian Director, The Australia Institute
- Claire Bookless, Managing Lawyer, Environmental Defenders Office
- Caitlin Reiger, Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights Law Centre