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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

Access to Information, Capacity Building, Right to Information, Subnational

IRM Review

IRM Report: Australia End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

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/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/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

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 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_2016-2018_0.pdf

Commitment Aim:

This commitment sought to develop standard measures for use of information access laws in Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments. The standards will reflect those adopted in the World Justice Project’s Open Government Index. [107] The commitment seeks to increase public awareness of access to information laws and inform Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments on the comparative user experience with those laws.

Status

Midterm: Substantial

This commitment was substantially completed by the midterm point of the first national action plan. A working group of the Association of Information Access Commissioners developed proposed metrics and made them publicly available for public comment in May 2017 (milestone 1). Data on the metrics for both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 reporting years was collected and used to create a draft dataset which was sent for validation to the different governments involved (milestones 2 and 3). For more information see the midterm Progress Report.

End of term: Complete

A summary of Commonwealth, State, and Territory information access laws was made available on the NSW Information and Privacy Commissioner’s website on 9 October 2017. [108] The NSW Information and Privacy Commissioner published the finalised metrics on its website, along with feedback on the consultation process leading to their final form, on 27 November 2017 (milestone 4). [109] A dashboard was also made available applying the metrics against both 2014/15 and 2015/16 datasets. [110] That dashboard has recently been updated to include the 2016/17 datasets.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

Prior to the commitment, each jurisdiction took a different approach to the collection and publication of information relating to the use of access to information laws. The dashboard provides access to currently available data that is reasonably comparable across the different Australian jurisdictions. [111] The different results across the jurisdictions reflect different models of information release, with some states emphasising more proactive or ‘push’ approaches to release of information. Some jurisdictions were not able to report on all the metrics adopted, but it is intended that each jurisdiction continue to develop the data they collect over time to meet the reporting criteria. [112] Therefore, the metrics cannot deliver a comprehensive set of directly comparable data between jurisdictions. The metrics have also continued to be developed, which may impact on the ability to compare data over time. [113] The increased information available to the public is therefore marginal.

Carried Forward?

This commitment is completed and not carried forward in the second national action plan. The second national action plan does, however, include a commitment to enhance State and Territory participation in OGP. This is intended to develop mechanisms to assess awareness of the right to access government information and experiences in exercising that right at each level of government. [114] This may further develop opportunities for information sharing and joint reporting, as well as supporting collaboration on open government initiatives.

[107] World Justice Project, WJP Open Government Index 2015, https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/wjp-rule-law-index/wjp-open-government-index-2015. Note that the World Justice Project has recently released its rule of law index for 2019 which includes the main elements of the open government index; see World Justice Project, WJP Rule of Law Index 2019, https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/research-and-data/wjp-rule-law-index-2019. [108] AIAC, Compendium of information access laws across Australian states and territories, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/file_manager/Jurisdictional%20Compendium%20OCT%202017.pdf. [109] NSW IPC, Release of inaugural dashboard and metrics on the public's use of FOI laws, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/news-media/news/release-inaugural-dashboard-and-metrics-publics-use-foi-laws [110] Ibid. [111] Interview with NSW Information Commissioner, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017. [112] Ibid. [113] For example, the NSW Information Commissioner reports that the way applications are counted has been changed in the 2017/2018 metrics; see NSW Information and Privacy Commission, Dashboard and metrics on the public's use of FOI laws, https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/information-access/open-government-open-data-public-participation/dashboard-and-metrics-publics-use-foi-laws. [114] PM&C, Open Government Partnership Australia, Australia’s Second Open Government National Action Plan 2018-20: Engage States and Territories to better understand information access, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/commitment/engage-states-and-territories-better-understand-information-access (accessed 27//2018).

Commitments

  1. Strengthen Anti-Corruption Framework

    AU0016, 2018, Anti-Corruption

  2. Political Donation Transparency

    AU0017, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  3. Data Sharing

    AU0018, 2018, Access to Information

  4. Improve Public Service Practice

    AU0019, 2018, Capacity Building

  5. Access to Information

    AU0020, 2018, Access to Information

  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, Access to Information

  9. Whiste-Blower Protections

    AU0001, 2016, Anti-Corruption

  10. Beneficial Ownership Transparency

    AU0002, 2016, Anti-Corruption

  11. Extractive Industries Transparency

    AU0003, 2016, Anti-Corruption

  12. Combating Corporate Crime

    AU0004, 2016, Anti-Corruption

  13. Data Innovation

    AU0005, 2016, Access to Information

  14. Public Trust in Data Sharing

    AU0006, 2016, Access to Information

  15. Digitization of Government Services

    AU0007, 2016, Capacity Building

  16. Information Management and Access Laws

    AU0008, 2016, Access to Information

  17. Freedom of Information

    AU0009, 2016, Access to Information

  18. Access to Government Data

    AU0010, 2016, Access to Information

  19. Electoral System and Political Parties

    AU0011, 2016, Political Integrity

  20. National Integrity Framework

    AU0012, 2016, Anti-Corruption

  21. Open Contracting

    AU0013, 2016, Access to Information

  22. OGP NAP

    AU0014, 2016, Public Participation

  23. Public Participation

    AU0015, 2016, Capacity Building

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