Search This Blog

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tale of two cities when it comes to FOIing ministers

Any resemblance to recently deposed NSW Premier Nathan Rees purely coincidental.

Since 1991 NSW has stood out from other jurisdictions with no overall reporting on agency Freedom of Information performance (apart from an Ombudsman's survey not necessarily undertaken every year), with each agency reporting individually in its annual report. The exception is a report on applications received by ministers, where cross-government details are included in an Appendix in the Department of Premier and Cabinet Annual Report.

According to the 2008-2009 report published recently (page 90), the number of applications to ministers halved last year, 20 in total, compared with 54 in 2007–08. There wasn't a lot of joy for applicants either. Of the applications finalised by Ministers’ Offices, the Report states six were discontinued; four were granted in full or the documents were otherwise available; one was granted in part or the documents were otherwise available; two were refused in full on the basis of exemptions; and for six, no documents were held. Two ministers, the Premier (5) and the Minister for Primary Industries (4) accounted for almost half.

The reported statistics however may be a little rubbery as keeping track of ministers as they go out the door, or change responsibilities is tough going apparently. Hence this note:
"The Department has not been able to locate data, however, for some Ministers who ceased to hold office during the financial year or changed portfolio responsibilities."
But how to explain this comparison, drawing from information in the WA Information Commissioner's 2008-2009 Report (Part 7 page 84). It lists 247 FOI applications to state government ministers since the Government was sworn in in September 2008, including 50 to the Treasurer, with three other ministers each exceeding the 20 mark, the combined total for all ministers in NSW? People in NSW have given up, or don't know there is a separate right under the FOI Act to access minister's documents; they know a minister doesn't hold anything much in the way of documents that aren't held by their agencies; the stats are distorted as some ministers treat any FOI application they receive as if it is ministerial correspondence and send it off to the agency to deal with?

Guesses or suitably informed opinion welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment