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Thank you for the freedom (of information)

The nation of Sweden has a long history of developing new ideas which take off across the world. Just think of seat belts, flat packed furniture, or their most famous export, ABBA.   

But did you know this Scandinavian nation is also the founding point of freedom of information laws?

FOI 250 years seal small

250 years ago this month, the Swedish parliament passed the Freedom of the Press Act 1766, creating the first legal framework for a democratic idea now recognised in over 100 countries — open government. As well as press freedom, the legislation guaranteed public access to documents drawn up by government agencies.

In the years since other nations followed suit, creating legislation to enshrine the right to access documents held by public authorities. Australia is included, with the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) for documents held by the Australian Government agencies.

The FOI Act recognises government information as a national resource which, where possible, should be available to the public. The right of individuals to access government information improves transparency of decision making, and enhances government accountability.

In fact, FOI has transformed practices beyond government. The values of openness and transparency incorporated into FOI laws are now also considered best practice for businesses in their communication with customers — and transparency is now recognised as essential to customer trust.

It’s yet another great contribution to the world from those innovative Swedes. So we say thank you for the music, and thank you for the freedom!

You can learn more about the FOI Act here.

If you have a question about FOI, you can contact our enquiries team on 1300 363 992 or enquries@oaic.gov.au