26 September 2023

Commissioner to press information shortfalls

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The NSW Information Commissioner has unveiled research into the “least understood” of the four pathways for accessing Government information.

The Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd said she commissioned the research on the informal release pathway in May last year following a dramatic increase of formal access applications for Government information in 2020/21.

She said that with the research findings the report also contained the results of a compliance audit examining the informal release practices of NSW public sector Agencies.

“Information access is the cornerstone of transparency and accountability and empowers citizens to participate fully in the democratic process,” Commissioner Tydd said.

“The research detailed in the Report will assist Agencies to better understand informal release, identify its benefits to Agencies and citizens, provide guidance and potentially decrease the need for more resource intensive formal applications,” she said.

She said the NSW Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) undertook the compliance audit to understand their practices and established procedures regarding the informal release pathway.

“The audit shows that overwhelmingly 83 per cent of informal requests recorded by Agencies resulted in information being released,” Commissioner Tydd said.

“Encouragingly, 58 per cent of Agencies reported keeping statistics on informal release,” she said.

“This demonstrates that in general Agencies are aware of and using the legislation to release information informally by releasing information subject to conditions, exercising their discretion to determine by what means the information will be released and deleting information that would otherwise be subject to an overriding public interest factor against disclosure of information to enable its release informally.”

“However, more can be done by Agencies to ensure that this pathway operates as intended.”

Commissioner Tydd said most Agencies didn’t have established procedures to manage informal release requests, with 53 per cent lacking a documented policy or procedure to support staff dealing with these types of requests.

She said 58 per cent of Agencies did not provide a written outcome to the applicant who requested information.

“To address this risk to the right to access information informally, the Information Commissioner will be developing accompanying tools responsive to the identified needs of Agencies.”

Commissioner Tydd said the new tools were planned to be released in September during Right to Know Week NSW 2023.

The 72-page report, Informal Release of Information under Section 8 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW), can be accessed at this PS News link.

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