Legislative Council: Thursday, July 07, 2022



Freedom of Information (Ministerial Diaries) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 1 June 2022.)

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (20:14): I rise to speak briefly on behalf of the government on the bill before us from the Hon. Robert Simms. It will disappoint the Hon. Rob Simms to learn that the Labor Party's position has not changed from when the bill was introduced last time. This bill, I think, is the same bill that was introduced by the honourable member in 2021. Parliament was prorogued before the bill could reach its finality.

The Hon. Mr Simms indicates, correctly, that in other jurisdictions, particularly in the ACT and Queensland, ministerial diaries are made available. The requirement to proactively disclose, I am advised, is only enshrined in legislation, however, in the Australian Capital Territory. The requirement in the bill for ministerial diaries to be published within seven days, I am informed, would make the South Australian disclosure requirements by far the most onerous in the nation.

The publication of diary extracts elsewhere in Australia, I am informed, has raised questions about privacy, where meeting attendees may not give consent as to the information about them being published on the register. I note that ministers often meet with various members of the public, some of whom would understandably be reticent about their names being published for all to see.

The government will not be supporting the bill, as I mentioned, as we did not in opposition, but I am pleased to say that the government will be taking up other reforms that will have, in our view, a far more tangible reflection on transparency and trust in politics, such as banning election donations.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (20:16): I rise to make some comments in relation to this particular bill, which I understand was before us in the previous parliament but did not progress. Currently, under the act, copies of ministerial diaries can be disclosed through an FOI application, showing meetings, events and functions attended by the minister that relate to the minister's responsibilities.

This bill introduced by the Hon. Robert Simms will require a minister, within seven days of the end of each calendar month, to publicly make available a copy of the minister's diary for the previous calendar month that sets out all meetings, events and functions attended by the minister that relate to the minister's responsibilities, by publishing it on a website determined by the minister responsible for the administration of this act.

The proposal enhances transparency, including potentially providing clearer overview to the parliament of policy and funding decisions of ministers derived from meetings with stakeholders, as well as more easily identifying any conflicts of interest. Consideration should also be given to the additional administrative responsibilities and resourcing required to support the proactive disclosure of ministerial diaries, including that of the Ombudsman and SACAT in reviewing determinations, particularly if third-party consultations are required. The Liberal Party supports the introduction of this bill.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (20:17): I thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink for her speech. I will keep it even shorter than hers. I will just say that I have already spoken on this previously and that SA-Best will support the initiative by the Hon. Robert Simms, because we believe transparency, particularly amongst ministers, is paramount.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (20:18): I want to thank members for their contributions: the Hon. Kyam Maher, the Hon. Michelle Lensink and the Hon. Frank Pangallo. I am very disappointed to hear that the government will not be supporting this reform, given it is a very straightforward reform, but as the honourable leader has noted, this was the position of the Labor Party in opposition as well as in government.

Nonetheless, it is a very disappointing position that they have taken, because the Labor government ministers over in the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland are all subject to this level of transparency and scrutiny, and I cannot really comprehend why Labor ministers in South Australia would not want to subject themselves to the same level of scrutiny.

The Greens have always believed that transparency is the best disinfectant—let the light shine—and that the public has a right to know who is meeting with government ministers and for what reason. The Attorney-General has flagged privacy concerns, but the bill deals with those issues. It makes it very clear that personal meetings are not to be disclosed and confidential information is not to be disclosed. It also gives the minister the power to appeal to the tribunal to request that information not be disclosed if they consider it is going to compromise the private information of an individual, so the claims that have been made are not accurate.

I am hopeful the bill will pass this chamber. If it does, I hope the government will reconsider its position in the other place. The Greens look forward to seeing the detail of the other transparency reforms the Labor Party has flagged tonight, and our position on political donations is well known and longstanding. However, this is not an either/or proposition: we can support this reform and also take other action to improve transparency. That is what the Greens will be advocating for.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

Bill taken through committee without amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (20:22): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.