Govt improves on “proactive disclosure culture”: OAIC

information register

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has published the results of its latest review of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS), reminding government agencies of the “concerted effort” needed to publicly share information.

The IPS makes it mandatory for agencies to publish a wide range of information on their website, ensuring information held by government agencies is “managed for public purposes and is treated as a national resource”.

In its third five-yearly review, Freedom of Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd, said there were some improvements from the previous reviews conducted in 2018 and 2012, with 94 per cent of agencies now reviewing their operation of the IPS – an increase of 12 per cent since the prior review.

However, the latest report indicates that the intention of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) is yet to be fully realised by agencies:

  • Only 29% of agencies have adopted a strategy for increasing open access to information they hold, down from 35% in 2018.
  • Only 73% of agencies publish information that they routinely release in response to freedom of information (FOI) requests, down from 79% in 2018 and 86% in 2012.
  • 75% of agencies publish consultation arrangements for members of the public to comment on specific policy proposals for which the agency is responsible, slightly above 72% in 2018 but below 86% in 2012.

“These results indicate that the intent of the scheme is not fully realised,” Commissioner Tydd said.

“Collectively there is work to do to ensure that the objects of the FOI Act are realised. The FOI Act aims to increase public participation in government processes and increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activities. We have a tool to promote open government in the FOI Act and collectively we can achieve that ambition.

“I have set out a forward plan to work with agencies to promote proactive release of information. This includes continuing to actively engage with senior leaders to secure their commitment to this important and mandated responsibility. It is clear that the involvement of senior leaders in agencies is critical in harnessing the IPS to enable a proactive approach to releasing information.

“The OAIC will also conduct a survey of agency practices and needs and use this information – along with the results of the IPS survey – to inform our provision of resources, and will review the FOI Guidelines relating to the IPS. Our objective is to promote understanding and make compliance easy so that the Australian community receives access to information as intended under the FOI Act.

“We have been encouraged by the agency response to what is a very valuable exercise to identify opportunities for improvement to the scheme overall and agency compliance.

“Agencies should review both their individual results and the overall trends, and identify ways to move towards being ‘open by design’ by building a culture of transparency and prioritising, promoting and resourcing proactive publication.”