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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Commonwealth Ombudsman reports on 2007-2008

The 2007-2008 Annual Report of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, is now available, with a chapter (6- pages 114-115) on Freedom of Information. The report outlines various activities relevant to FOI undertaken by the Ombudsman, most of which have been referred to earlier in the year. Good to see the Ombudsman has been involved in whatever internal discussions have gone on within government circles about FOI reform, and that, apparently for the first time, independent government agencies in the Prime Minister's portfolio involved in integrity issues (the Ombudsman, the Australian National Audit Office, Australian Public Service Commission, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, National Archives and Privacy Commissioner) now meet regularly as a group. Moving right along now.....

The Ombudsman has been strong on the need for FOI reform but investigating complaints about FOI matters is a small part of what the office does-206 complaints last year out of a total of 18,000 within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction The majority of FOI related complaints were about Centrelink (23%) and Immigration and Citizenship (21%).The main issue raised continued to be delay in processing requests,(about 34% of all complaints) with another 31% about the correctness of the primary decision.

The Ombudsman gives agencies a tickle up over delays, the duty to assist applicants and ensuring staff are adequately trained, but disappointingly fails to give details or comment about the outcomes of FOI investigations or, in contrast to other chapters, to provide any case studies on FOI related investigations.

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