National Archives supports FOI overhaul

The National Archives' David Fricker supports overhauling the Freedom of Information Act.
The National Archives' David Fricker supports overhauling the Freedom of Information Act.

Australia's official history keeper wants updated and simplified freedom of information laws to explain more clearly what should be kept secret and why.

National Archives of Australia director-general David Fricker supports overhauling the Freedom of Information Act.

"It's been tinkered with a bit over the years, but really it was drafted during the' 70s and no one was contemplating the internet, let alone WhatsApp," Mr Fricker told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

"It does need to be brought up to date. And it's also for the Australian public to have a clear expression of what it means."

He said it was not necessarily about "more freedom".

"I just want to have a clearer statement of the intent of the parliament, ultimately, on what should be made public and what should be kept secret and why."

Mr Fricker pointed to the costly legal battle over the release of the Palace Letters between the governor-general John Kerr, who dismissed prime minister Gough Whitlam, and the Queen.

"Surely something like that could have been resolved in five minutes. But it wasn't," he said.

"Why do the judges at the Federal Court and the High Court disagree with each other over something that should be just a simple binary reading of a line of legislation?"

The National Archives has also come under fire for the length of time it takes to release documents.

Mr Fricker said the default position was always to release records, but it had to be done responsibly.

The organisation earlier this year turned to crowd funding, warning it was on the brink of losing thousands of invaluable records and documents.

Following a public campaign, the federal government gave the archives $67.7 million over four years.

Australian Associated Press