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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Commissioner reports WA FOI administration generally competent

In a report to Parliament following an 8 month review of the administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1992 by State and local Government agencies, Western Australian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel found "that agencies generally administer the FOI process competently" but identified "room for improvement in a number of areas if there is to be a culture throughout government which is consistent with the aims of the FOI Act.” The Commissioner mentions that in some agencies "inappropriate factors" are taken into account when deciding whether to disclose documents under the FOI Act, and cites scope for more proactive and informal release of information, and greater consistency and quality of outcomes in the health sector and in dealing with requests to ministers."(M)ost of the areas for improvement identified in the review can be addressed by providing more training and support for government agencies" for which his office needs more resources.

The report includes 28 recommendations, all but one framed in terms of agencies "should" or "should consider" and the exception, "ministers may wish to explore..", so it's unlikely to set off a whirlwind of urgent activity in the corridors of power in Perth. The terms of reference didn't encompass a review of the act itself, or a requirement to examine developments in Australia or elsewhere. Even modest reform proposals put forward in WA in legislation in 2007 that never passed hardly rate a mention, let alone best practice ideas that have emerged since the WA act which remains largely unamended came into force in 1993.

Significant problems in the west are being encountered as a result of large numbers of requests to ministers offices, poorly resourced to deal with them (the report suggests a shared resource), and a corresponding spike in applications for review to the Commissioner which are now taking 200 days rather than the stipulated 30 to resolve.

While the report contains useful survey information about attitudes and approaches of ministers and public servants, public perceptions and experience of those who have sought to use the act hardly feature except in references to some points raised in 15 (confidential) submissions.

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