26 September 2023

PS leaders urged to be more opening

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The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) marked International Access to Information Day (IAID) this week (28 September) by calling on Public Sector leaders to promote a culture of openness and innovation.

Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel said IAID was celebrated annually to raise awareness of the importance of open Government, and the public’s right to access Government-held information.

“This right to access information held by Government is essential for transparent and accountable Government in a democratic society, by promoting and facilitating greater public participation and scrutiny, and supporting better decision-making,” Mr Bluemmel said.

He said OVIC’s State of FOI in Victoria from 2019-2021 found that nearly 20 per cent of applicants did not receive timely access to documents and nearly 65 per cent of complaints made to OVIC involved Agency delays in processing freedom of information (FOI) requests.

“There are changes the Victorian Public Sector could make right now that would make it quicker and easier for you to access information,” Mr Bluemmel said.

“A starting point is the role of senior Public Sector Agency leaders in promoting a culture of and authorising processes for public access to information,” he said.

“Another key change is Government Agencies having a policy on what information and documents can be made available publicly without the need for an FOI request.”

Mr Bluemmel said this would be complemented by Public Sector staff being prompted to identify a document or information for release at the time it was created or stored.

He said that where a document contained information not intended for release, document templates could prompt staff to identify and record non-disclosable information in ways that made it easy to provide access to the rest of the document.

“Similarly, as Government Agencies increasingly use artificial intelligence technologies to automate decisions and deliver Government services, you have the right to receive meaningful information about how such technology is being used,” the Commissioner said.

“To do this well, Agencies need to be proactive in identifying the types of information to document and make available publicly.”

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