26 September 2023

APS information leaders call for PS openness

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Australia’s Information Commissioners have geared up to mark International Access to Information Day (IAID) tomorrow (28 September) by urging Government Agencies to tailor their digital strategy towards building a culture of transparency.

Issuing a joint statement, Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk and Freedom of Information Commissioner Leo Hardiman said this year’s IAID theme, Artificial intelligence, e-governance and access to information, encouraged Governments to explore how the digital world could improve access to information.

“In exploring the theme of openness through e-governance, we recognise that how Government Agencies build e-governance systems and digital platforms has a direct impact on information access for all members of the Australian community,” Commissioners Falk and Hardiman said.

“As data custodians of the Commonwealth, we all have a responsibility to manage the information of Government as a national resource, for public benefit,” they said.

“Realising the value of Government held information and achieving the objectives of Agencies requires astute information management.”

The Commissioners said they were reflecting on this as Australia approached the 40th anniversary of the commencement of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).

They said there had been a lot of change since the enactment of the FOI Act, including the establishment of the OAIC in November 2010, a shift in the law favouring disclosure in certain circumstances unless contrary to the public interest, and the introduction of an Information Publication Scheme to mandate the publication of a broad range of Government information.

“The proactive approach remains in focus for Australian Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen who last year, through the release of the Open by Design Principles, provided a blueprint to Australian Government and public institutions to build a culture of transparency by prioritising, promoting and resourcing proactive disclosure,” the Commissioners said.

“This year the OAIC is urging Agencies to tailor their digital strategy to implement a best practice approach to achieving that goal,” they said.

“A number of Agencies have made great progress in this regard, with entities like the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia providing access to personal information for millions of Australians.”

However, Commissioners Falk and Hardiman said more needed to be done, with “concerning delays” in processing by some Agencies.

“This IAID, we encourage you to make a commitment to review your electronic information holdings and ensure you have the right e-governance to facilitate prompt access to information,” the Commissioners said.

“We also recommend to FOI practitioners our FOI Essentials toolkit to assist you to make good FOI decisions.

“While requests to Agencies have generally decreased, applications to the OAIC for Information Commissioner reviews have increased year on year.”

Further information on IAID can be accessed at this PS News link.

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