This blog takes an interest in issues associated with Freedom of Information (FOI) and privacy legislation in Australia. It also includes comment about open transparent and accountable government and related issues generally drawing on developments in Australia and overseas. Information contained on this site is general in nature and does not constitute legal
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Monday, November 15, 2010
Many NSW disclosure logs yet to disclose anything at all
Some journalists are concerned about losing the exclusive right, even for a brief period, to information obtained through the hard slog of a Freedom of Information application. The concerns arise as a result of the (coming in May 2011) Commonwealth requirement for an agency to post on the web within 10 working days documents released in response to a formal application under the Freedom of information Act-see here for an earlier comment. Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan told Peter Mares on ABC National Interest this week that he understood the point that FOI works best when active journalists use the act. It was a difficult issue to resolve but the 10 day stipulation provided a way to work around the problem.
Experience in NSW, four months into the NSW GIPA act, has resulted in no apparent fuss about the way a similar but narrower requirement is working. The act states that an agency must publish on the web a disclosure log containing information about access applications where what is provided to the access applicant is "information that the agency considers may be of interest to other members of the public" (s 25).
As there is no reference to a time requirement in the NSW act perhaps information isn't being posted until well after it has been made available to the applicant, thus removing the potential problem for journalists. Something of consolation to hard working scribes, or their employers at least, is that the applicant is entitled to full waiver of processing charges if information is made publicly available three working days before or after access is given to the applicant- s 67.
Other reasons may be that use of the act is low, or what has been requested and released isn't of interest to other members of the public, at least in the agency's judgment. Or heaven forbid, some agencies aren't compliant.
A quick survey of major state government agencies shows as at 12 November that it's very slim pickings out there, with the disclosure log in many key agencies containing no information at all.
I haven't looked beyond these agencies, or at other sectors such as universities or local councils, but would be glad to hear of anything else about disclosure logs that warrants a cheer, or a raspberry.