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Open government is a vital aspect of Australian democracy. The accountability and quality of government are enhanced when the law guarantees public access to government information.

For thirty years the Freedom of Information Act 1982 has been the legislative anchor for open government in Australia. The Act gives members of the public a legally enforceable right of access to government documents. The declared object of the Act is to promote Australia's representative democracy by increasing public participation in government processes and increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government actions. Information held by government, as the Act further declares, is a national resource that should be managed for public purposes.

Wide-ranging reforms to the FOI Act commenced in 2010. The reforms make it easier for the public to request FOI access, require agencies to be more proactive in publishing information, tighten restrictions against information disclosure and strengthen oversight of FOI administration by establishing the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The changes to the Australian Freedom of Information Act are matched by similar open government reforms in some Australian and foreign jurisdictions. The pressure for greater transparency and public engagement in government is a global commitment.

This Guide explains the main provisions and underlying principles of the FOI Act. The historical and philosophical underpinnings of the Act are described, as well as the key features of the 2010 reforms.

The Guide is designed for a wide audience, in and outside government. It is particularly aimed at assisting senior leaders in government to maintain a lasting commitment to open government.

Prof John McMillan
Australian Information Commissioner