The Road Not Taken

Rick Snell, the editor of Freedom of Information Review and lecturer in law at the University of Tasmania, notes the contrast between Australia and New Zealand's experience of freedom of information legislation, which both enacted in 1983. In New Zealand, Snell writes, "it was greeted with hails of dismay by public service unions, lawyers and academics." In Australia, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, extolled access to government information as "a public right". Twenty years later though, the roles have reversed. "There are numerous examples of the New Zealand government publishing documents on the net that would have Australian ministers and senior public servants reaching for the smelling salts. From climate change to the economy to immigration, New Zealand routinely publishes material Australian bureaucrats would fight to the death to keep secret. And somehow, their government keeps functioning, and no one complains government suffers when the public gets to see more than the press release."