Search This Blog

Monday, February 15, 2010

NSW information about Government Information

The Office of Information Commissioner NSW on Friday published four fact sheets for members of the public about the Government Information (Public Access) Act (not commenced), and an e-learning module that is pretty basic, but a useful resource for anyone who hasn't followed the development of the act, and for those public servants who need only the general gist of the new law.  The materials don't address the nitty-gritty isues that agencies who face the task of applying the Act on a day to day basis require. Except this from the Fact Sheet What is the public interest test? was heartening, and prospective applicants might like to keep it handy:
Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), all government agencies must disclose or release information unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure....

The identification of one or even several public interest considerations against disclosure is not sufficient justification to refuse to provide information. Agencies will make their decision after balancing the relevant considerations for and against disclosure. In each case, agencies will consider a range of factors, including:
·  the nature and context of the information
·  in the case of an informal or formal request, any factors special to the applicant
·  the relative weight of public interest considerations for and against disclosure.
Agencies should refuse to disclose information only where, on balance, there is an overriding public interest against disclosure. Where considerations on balance favour disclosure, or are evenly balanced, the presumption in favour of disclosure stands, and information should be published or released.
As the Fact Sheet explains,there are 12 categories of information where there is always an overriding public interest against disclosure, but the guidance on the balancing test, where relevant, is positive stuff.

There isn't much in these materials that suggests the ongoing attention that is necessary to promote the cultural shift from the excessive secrecy the Ombudsman and former Premier Rees declared was at the root of the problem. No quotes from the Premier or the Attorney General, rallying ministers and the troops in readiness for a new era of open government, or urging citizens to take a closer interest in what government is up to. And the Fact Sheet The role of Right to Information Officers makes the job sound distinctly clerical, with no hint of involvement in, leadership of, or support for a concerted effort to champion the cause and win those hearts and minds of crusty types in the system who might be wedded to old ways. These are essential if the legislation is to achieve its purpose.

With the new legislation to commence "in the near future" and an Information Commissioner to take up duties "soon", another matter on which silence prevails is what the NSW Law Reform Commission has told the Government about a reference last June to examine how the new oversight regime should work. As the Acting Commissioner's  Right to information in NSW guide last September recounted [2.4]:
 In April 2006, the Government asked the NSW Law Reform Commission to review the State’s privacy laws, including whether a statutory cause of action should be introduced for invasion of privacy. In June 2009, the Attorney General expanded this reference to specifically include the relationship of right to information and privacy laws. The Commission will also report on how these laws should be administered, with specific attention to the relationship between the Privacy and Information Commissioners. Report on these issues is expected in late 2009.
The Law Reform Commission's Annual Report 2008-2009 [page 9] similarly states that this and another report on the reference were to be completed by the end of 2009. 
At one minute to midnight (or so) no sign of  the reports, at least in the public domain.

No comments:

Post a Comment