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Friday, December 18, 2009

Relatively happy but busy Information Commissioner in the West

Western Australian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel in the Annual Report 2008-2009 details brisk Freedom of Information business, with 180 applications to his office for external review in the year to June 2009 up from 103 in the previous year. The average time for resolving complaints, just under 79 days, is impressive compared to similar review stats elsewhere.

While the Commissioner found a high level of technical compliance by agencies with obligations under the Act, he expressed some concern about the "spirit " in which things are done; some show little interest in an administrative process for making information available, either proactively or on request, instead of the freedom of information process; agencies, on occasion, are overly focused on the procedural aspects of a request to the exclusion of looking for an outcome which achieves the objects of the Act; and many published information statements are overwhelming or irrelevant to members of the public, either due to their sheer length and complexity, or to the lack of relevant information.

Agency performance details are summarised in Part 3 ( Police and health agencies topping the bill) with the Commissioner noting agencies are charging more often and waiving charges less; that complaints by Members of Parliament increased from 4 to 80 in the year, many involving complaints against decisions of Ministers; and that there wasn't an appeal against any of the Commissioner's findings during the year, a pretty positive performance metric (or they're just less litigious in that part of the country.)

Overall, sounds like better than a pass mark from the Commissioner who observes:
"Notwithstanding the challenges ahead, freedom of information in Western Australia remains on a firm footing - as illustrated by the statistics presented in this report - and will continue to play an important part in our robust and vibrant democracy."
Not a mention of the FOI reforms elsewhere in the country, actual or mooted, or the need for changes in the law or government policy. I would have thought one lesson is that you won't get too much adventurism if agencies are left to decide for themselves what information should be proactively published.

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