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Australia

Freedom of Information (AU0009)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Australia National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Australian Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen (enquiries@oaic.gov.au)

Support Institution(s): Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, Records Management, Right to Information, Subnational

IRM Review

IRM Report: Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Objective and description: Australia will better measure and improve our understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws. We will do this by working with states and territories to develop uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information access rights, and by collecting and publishing this data. Status Quo: The right of citizens to access government held information promotes transparency of government actions and decision making. The Commonwealth, states and territories collect data and produce statistics about applications to access government information in each jurisdiction. For example, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner currently releases statistics on access requests under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 through data.gov.au. Such information is important for measuring the effectiveness of freedom of information laws, including for benchmarking our performance internationally. However, the data collected is not uniform across jurisdictions, making it difficult to compare and analyse how freedom of information rights are used across the country. It is also varies in its consistency with international measurements of open government, including the World Justice Project’s Open Government Index. The development of consistent metrics aligned with the Open Government Index would assist in building a more complete picture of freedom of information rights in Australia and could help governments improve processing of information access requests. Metrics could include the type of applicant, application rates per capita, release rates, review rates and refusal rates. Ambition: To facilitate an assessment of the effectiveness of Australia’s right to information laws across jurisdictions, and raise awareness about the public’s rights to access government information. This will improve understanding of the public’s utilisation of access rights, government processes and practices, and allow for international benchmarking, including against the World Justice Project’s Open Government Index; Relevance: This commitment will advance the OGP values of access to information and public accountability by: increasing awareness of public access rights to government information; enabling comparison of freedom of information access rights across jurisdictions and internationally; and improving freedom of information access practices and efficiency of processing access to information requests. COMMITMENT DETAILS: OGP Grand Challenge: Increasing Public Integrity; Timeframes September 2016 – December 2017; Lead agency: Australian Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen (enquiries@oaic.gov.au); Other actors involved; Government Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; Non-government N/A

IRM Midterm Status Summary

9. Understand the use of freedom of information

Commitment Text:

Australia will better measure and improve our understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws.

We will do this by working with states and territories to develop uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information access rights, and by collecting and publishing this data.

[…]

Ambition:

To facilitate an assessment of the effectiveness of Australia’s right to information laws across jurisdictions, and raise awareness about the public’s rights to access government information. This will improve understanding of the public’s utilisation of access rights, government processes and practices, and allow for international benchmarking, including against the World Justice Project’s Open Government Index.

[…]

Milestones:

  1. Information Commissioners and Ombudsman to agree and publish metrics on information access rights, aligned with the Open Government Index.
  2. Undertake pilot for data collection and validation for the 2014/15 financial year.
  3. Data collection and validation for the 2015/16 financial year.
  4. Publicly release dataset on 2015/16 metrics.

Responsible institution: Australian Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen

Supporting institution(s): Various

Start date: September 2016 End date: December 2017

Editorial Note: This is a partial version of the commitment text. For the full commitment text, see the Australia National Action Plan available at https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Australia_NAP_201....

Context and Objectives

This commitment seeks to develop standard measures for the reporting of use of information access laws in Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. Currently, each of the Commonwealth, States and Territories have access to information legislation in place allowing for public access to government information either proactively and/or upon request. The operation of those Acts, and in some instances rights to review decisions on whether to release information, is generally administered by an information commissioner or ombudsman with obligations to inform the public and various other reporting requirements on the rights and operation of the legislation in question. [1] However, there is no common standard for the information collected and made publicly available.

The motivations for this commitment included the development of the Open Government Index by the World Justice Project (WJP).[2] The Open Government index attempts to measure government openness based on public experience and perceptions in 102 countries. In its 2015 report, Australia was ranked relatively poorly, compared to its overall result, on the Right to Information dimension, which measures awareness of access to information laws as well as the timeliness and responsiveness of government’s response to access to information requests.[3]

By referencing the Open Government Index, this commitment is expected to reflect the measures adopted in that Index in identifying common metrics for reporting on the public experience with access to information laws. The commitment is, therefore, quite specific on the range of metrics that might be adopted and the ultimate objectives sought. However, the process by which agreement will be reached on metrics, including any consultation process to be undertaken, and the method of public release of the data collected, is not specified in the commitment.

This commitment stands to have a minor potential impact. In creating a common standard for reporting on access to information, the commitment seeks to improve our understanding on the public experience with access to information laws, allowing comparisons to be drawn across jurisdictions, including internationally, and over time. The initiative may therefore indirectly increase the accountability of public officials in the implementation of access to information laws.

Civil society groups interviewed indicated broad support for the commitment. However, interviewees emphasised that it was important that the agreed metrics provide meaningful information on government response to access to information requests and not just present a common subset of existing reporting requirements. For the information to be meaningful it should enable comparisons of government agency practices including reasons for refusal, and allocation of resources to access decisions and review.[4]

Completion

Milestone 1: This milestone saw substantial completion during the period of implementation under consideration, after it was delayed beyond its timetabled completion date of December 2016. A working group to develop the metrics was established by the Association of Information Access Commissioners (AIAC) comprising statutory officers in each Australian jurisdiction responsible for freedom of information oversight and development of information policy. The proposed suite of metrics was agreed by the AIAC in March 2017 and published on the NSW Information and Privacy Commission website in May 2017.[5]

The metrics include type of applicant (whether individual, member of parliament, not for profit, etc), number of applications per population size, percentage of valid applications where access was granted in full or in part, percentage of valid applications where information was available but access was refused, timeliness of decisions made within the statutory timeframes and percentage of external reviews sought.[6]

Public consultation on the proposed metrics took place in July and August 2017 with the release of a public survey.[7] The government’s Mid-Term Self-Assessment Report states that there were 42 responses to the survey which will be considered in preparation of the final metrics to be presented to the AIAC in its September 2017 meeting.[8] The final metrics and feedback on the survey results were made publicly available on 27 November 2017.[9]

Milestones 2 and 3: These milestones were substantially completed as at the implementation period for this review. The Information and Privacy Commission stated that it collected data on the metrics for both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 reporting years which was used to create a draft dataset and sent to each jurisdiction for validation in July 2017.[10] Further progress on this milestone will be assessed in the end-of-term report.

Milestone 4: This milestone was not due for commencement during the period covered by this report. However, the live dashboard providing access to the data was publicly released on 27 November 2017, after the period of implementation under consideration, completing the overall commitment ahead of schedule.[11] Progress will be reflected in the end-of-term report.

There were no results of the impact of this commitment as at 1 July 2017.

Next Steps

The publication of further information concerning public use of access to information laws can be a significant step in increasing the accountability of information commissioners and ombudsmen, and encouraging public engagement in development of both laws and their application. Future steps could include:

  • Publication of the dataset in an open data format allowing access and reuse;
  • Evaluation of the public access and use of the dataset; and

Further consideration of extending the range of metrics used, perhaps including a breakdown of the agencies from which information is sought, reasons for refusing access, estimates and resources allocated by agencies in making access to information decisions, charges and other fees for access, and changes over time.


[1] Compendium of information access laws across Australian states and territories, January 2017 prepared by the Association of Information Access Commissioners, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/node/6601/attachment/newest; Note that the Freedom of Information Act 2016 (ACT) will come into effect in the ACT on 1 January 2018 establishing the role of the ACT Ombudsman in overseeing operation of that Act.

[3] WJP, Open Government Index 2015, ‘Right to information’, http://data.worldjusticeproject.org/opengov/#

[4] Peter Timmins, Access to information advocate and Convener Australian Open Government Partnership Network, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017; Open Forum, Melbourne, 24 August 2017.

[5] NSW IPC, ‘Open Government’, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/open-government.

[6] Metrics on Public Use of Freedom of Information Access Rights, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/node/8086/attachment/newest (accessed 6/4/2018).

[7] Australian Government, Midterm Self-Assessment Report for Australia’s First Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18, at p 31. The survey is now closed but was available at http://ipc.e-newsletter.com.au/survey.php?sid=19425&name=have-your-say-on-the-development-of-uniform-metrics-on-the-use-o (accessed 7/10/2017).

[8] Australian Government, Midterm Self-Assessment Report for Australia’s First Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18, at p 31.

[9] NSW IPC, ‘Release of inaugural dashboard and metrics on the public's use of FOI laws’, 28 November 2017, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/news-media/news/release-inaugural-dashboard-and-metrics-publics-use-foi-laws.

[10] Interview with NSW Information Commissioner, NSW, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017; see also Australian Government, Midterm Self-Assessment Report for Australia’s First Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18, at p 31.

[11] NSW IPC, ‘Release of inaugural dashboard and metrics on the public's use of FOI laws’, 28 November 2017, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/news-media/news/release-inaugural-dashboard-and-metrics-publics-use-foi-laws; The dashboard is available at https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/node/8086/attachment/newest


Australia's Commitments

  1. Strengthen anti-corruption framework

    AU0016, 2018, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  2. Political Donation Transparency

    AU0017, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  3. Data sharing

    AU0018, 2018, E-Government

  4. Improve Public Service Practice

    AU0019, 2018, Capacity Building

  5. Access to Information

    AU0020, 2018, OGP

  6. Enhance public engagement skills in the public service

    AU0021, 2018, Capacity Building

  7. Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

    AU0022, 2018, Capacity Building

  8. Expand open contracting

    AU0023, 2018, E-Government

  9. Whiste-blower Protections

    AU0001, 2016, Legislation & Regulation

  10. Beneficial ownership transparency

    AU0002, 2016, Beneficial Ownership

  11. Extractive industries transparency

    AU0003, 2016, Beneficial Ownership

  12. Combating corporate crime

    AU0004, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  13. Data Innovation

    AU0005, 2016, E-Government

  14. Public Trust in Data Sharing

    AU0006, 2016, Capacity Building

  15. Digitization of Government Services

    AU0007, 2016, Capacity Building

  16. Information Management and Access Laws

    AU0008, 2016, Capacity Building

  17. Freedom of Information

    AU0009, 2016, Capacity Building

  18. Access to Government Data

    AU0010, 2016, Capacity Building

  19. Electoral System and Political Parties

    AU0011, 2016, Public Participation

  20. National Integrity Framework

    AU0012, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  21. Open Contracting

    AU0013, 2016, Capacity Building

  22. OGP NAP

    AU0014, 2016, OGP

  23. Public Participation

    AU0015, 2016, Capacity Building