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Government investigation into FOI compliance

Last week the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) handed down a report into its investigation of the Department of Home Affairs’ compliance with Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This investigation started because of complaints made to the Commissioner about delays in receiving FOI information requested from Home Affairs.

I’ll summarise the main findings below, but you can read the report in full here.

What did the FOI report find?

The Commissioner found:

  • More than 50% of the FOI requests to Home Affairs over the last 4 years were processed outside the statutory time limit.
  • Home Affairs does not have adequate governance and systems of accountability in place to ensure compliance with FOI laws.
  • There was a lack of leadership and senior level support for compliance with FOI laws.
  • There was a lack of support and training given to staff in business units to help process FOI requests.

In rectifying these issues, the Commissioner has recommended that Home Affairs:

  • appoint an “Information Champion” to promote and operationalise its compliance with the FOI Act
  • prepare and implement an operational manual for processing requests for non-personal information, and make it available on its website
  • provide additional FOI training to staff
  • audit the implementation and operationalisation of the recommendations and provide a copy of the audit report to the OAIC.

What’s my take on this report?

On one hand, it’s heartening to see our Australian Information Commissioner ensuring our government’s compliance with information access legislation. On the other, this is not something that should be happening in Australia. Information access laws are key to democracy and quite frankly, we should be doing better.

One of my favourite comments made by Commissioner Falk was “FOI is a whole-of-agency responsibility, requiring the support of senior staff to ensure policies and procedures are adequate and operationalised.” Amen to that! I couldn’t agree more. So often I see government’s diminish the importance of FOI requests and fail to develop and support the teams tasked with processing these requests. Often this is because it just isn’t a priority to those in leadership.

Since I launched my firm in 2019, I have been advocating the same changes as recommended by the Commissioner in this report in our Queensland agencies. I set up RTI Consultants because I saw issues in how our government in Queensland administered its information access law, the Right to Information Act 2009.

I am now in my third year of business and it has been great to work with some of Queensland’s big government agencies in refining their RTI systems. But more can be done. I would like to see the Queensland Government audit its Department’s RTI systems by the end of 2021. This will show us how we are meeting our information access demands and any changes we need to make to better our RTI systems. I can guarantee that there are some.

My vision for RTI Consultants is to build and strengthen the Queensland Government’s implementation of its Right to Information and Information Privacy system. With dedication and the right resources, we can be the most transparent State in Australia.

If you are a Government agency in Queensland and want to work with me, contact me here

The cover of the Commissioner's report into the Department of Home Affairs' compliance with FOI laws

The cover of the Commissioner’s report into the Department of Home Affairs’ compliance with FOI law

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