Labor senator Joe Ludwig has hit back at Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd's comment that freedom of information laws are harmful.
Senator Ludwig said the commissioner should not use FOI laws as a scapegoat for the pressures faced by the public service due to the Abbott government's cuts.
"It's unbelievable that the head of the Commonwealth public service would call the FOI laws 'pernicious' – he either has no understanding of the importance of FOI laws in a modern and transparent democracy or he is trying to undermine the legislation with his comments," Senator Ludwig said.
"FOI laws simply provide a window into the decisions and process of government. If the Public Service Commissioner has confidence in the professionalism and integrity of public service staff, then he has nothing to fear from FOI laws."
He said the Abbott government had a track record of secrecy since it came to power.
"Operation Sovereign Borders and 'on-water matters' have been used to hide information from the public," he said.
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"Last year, the [then] secretary of the Attorney-General's Department [Roger Wilkins] was asked why incoming government briefs were released under a Labor government but not under the Liberal government, and his response was 'the last two times we played softball and now we are playing hardball'. Seriously. This is from the head of the department that is responsible for the FOI Act."
Mr Lloyd made the comment about FOI laws when talking to public servants at an event at the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday.
One audience member suggested to Mr Lloyd that public servants were probably risk averse because of the penalties if they made an error of judgment.
Mr Lloyd said this could be because of a large number of watchdogs and "very pernicious" freedom of information laws.
"[FOI laws] have gone a bit further than what they were intended to," Mr Lloyd said.