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Monday, March 14, 2011

Australian Information Commissioner on the first quarter

In a welcome development the Australian Information Commissioner has put information on the record about the first three months of operation of the new Freedom of Information regime and the operation of his office. Whether applicants and users of the act fully subscribe to this sentiment remains to be seen
The Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, said he is impressed by how Australian Government agencies have embraced the notion of government information as a national resource. "I'm delighted that Australian Government agencies are increasingly adopting a pro-disclosure culture," Professor McMillan said. 

I'd agree (putting aside a recent DFAT experience on a matter of minor significance, and a few wails of distress/hilarity that continue to reach me) that there appears to have been a move in the right direction in some agencies at least. But there's no substitute for meaningful measures of performance and change and it would be great to hear the Commissioner's thinking and plans in this respect.

The Commissioner's conclusion after the first three months of operation of his office also strikes me as full of hope and optimism, rather than based on evidence.  Fifteen requests for FOI review now that internal review is optional, is a small number capable of various possible explanations; 256 requests for additional time tells us more about agencies and the long enduring problem of non- compliance with reasonably generous time limits rather than Australians and their attitudes. It would also be interesting to know how many were granted and refused and where most came from, and the Commissioner's time target for dealing with complaints and reviews.
In the three months to 31 January 2011, the Office responded to 5,542 phone enquiries and 673 written enquiries. It received 290 privacy complaints, 22 FOI complaints, 15 requests for FOI decisions to be reviewed and 256 requests for extensions of time to process FOI requests. "These statistics show that Australians care about, and are willing to enforce, their information rights," Professor McMillan said.

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