Search This Blog

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Citizen-centricity and some Australian stone age FOI processes

Craig Thomler on eGov AU comments about Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner's recently released  new guideline, Accessing Government Information. A step-by-step guide for the general public (PDF):
Having guides for citizens on accessing government information, while useful, represents the old world rather than the new. Employing Government 2.0 approaches we should reverse this approach. Rather than government telling citizens how to navigate agency processes to access public information, the public should be telling government how information should be presented to them. The community should write the guidelines and have agencies follow them, rather than the current position where agencies act as the authoritative bodies and citizens the applicants."
There's no question lots more could be done along these lines, even modest steps that fall way short of Thomler's ideal such as agencies asking what information outsiders would find useful, and improving website searchability. But applicants for information of specific interest -and guides to help them- always will (and should) be with us.

Mercy from Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to citizen centric procedures for using FOI laws, Queensland, Victoria Tasmania and the Federal government are to some extent in the real world, while other jurisdictions are stuck in the stone age. SA Police takes the boulder-the FOI application must be submitted in person at a police station. More broadly its snail mail only for applications under access to information law in NSW, SA and Western Australia. And cheque, money order (explain that to anyone under 35) or cash, if you don't mind, are the only acceptable ways to pay the application fee just about everywhere in those states. Here's a snapshot from around the country- I've used the respective premier's department as an example where needed. Those responsible in the laggard states should be laying down the law about electronic means of doing business with information seekers.Those under and over 35, bear with us.
 
Queensland leads by  providing a central on-line site for making formal RTI applications by email or fax and accepting Visa or Mastercard online for payment of the application fee. As does Victoria where FOI applications can be made in writing or lodged electronically via FOI Online-about the only acknowledgement of modernity in their FOI system.

The Federal government has no similar central site but things became a whole lot easier in making an application to an agency with the abolition of application fees on 1 November last year, solving what some found near impossible two years ago- to accept a credit card payment with an application. Now every agency I looked at set out how to make an application in the same way as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet-in writing by mail or via email in their case to foi@pmc.gov.au.

The same in Tasmania even where an application fee is payable-Visa or Mastercard are accepted. Applications to the Department of Premier and Cabinet can be made  by

But NSW, South Australia and Western Australia are electronic FOI wastelands. 

I couldn't find any NSW agency that invites or accepts email applications or payment by credit card or online. Thus the Department of Premier and Cabinet states:
You can make a formal application by downloading and completing the government information access form and sending it to us at the following address:
Coordinator (Public Access to Government Information) Legal Branch
Department of Premier and Cabinet
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
And from the application form:
Your application is not valid unless it is accompanied by a $30 application fee. Payment of the $30 application fee is enclosed by: cash / cheque / money order (circle one). Do NOT send cash by post.
In South Australia (still stuck in pre-reform mode) there is no mention of FOI on the Premier's Department home page. Using the Department's search engine, you get this result for "Freedom of Information" so I can't use it as an example. It's snail mail only from a quick browse of other sites. And then there is SA Police: (emphasis added):
This form is also available from your local police station and must be submitted by you in person at a police station. 
Money order, cheque, or cash only unless the agency of interest  accepts a credit card, according to State Records South Australia general guidance about making an application. 

In Western Australia this guidance on the Premier and Cabinet website (emphasis added) at least allows for email and online applications if you are after personal information.
Personal Information - Applications for access to, and amendment of "personal information" are free. Accordingly, if you would like to apply for access to information under the FOI Act for documents of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, you may do so in writing on-line, via this website, by e-mail, fax or by regular mail (see Contact Us).

Non-Personal Information - Applications for access to "non-personal information" (a request that includes information about persons other than you) must be accompanied by the $30 application fee. Processing charges may also be applicable. As we do not presently have a facility to accept monetary payments on-line, please forward any requests for access to "non-personal information" by regular mail (see Contact Us).
"Could do a lot better" isn't the half of it.


3 comments:

  1. Denys Clarke10:03 pm

    Despite all the well meaning changes being made, still nothing prevents the
    many talented, experienced, devious bureaucrats who so desire from giving us
    the runaround.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Andrew Ecclestone10:05 pm

    The Mexican federal FOI system (InfoMex) not only allows you to retain your anonymity as a requester, but also enables you to do so if you decide to pay for notarised copies of information to be disclosed (electronic copies are free). The system enables you to go to a bank and pay the fee using a reference number that will track back to your request, so the agency knows you've paid up, but doesn't disclose your identity.

    You can watch a video of one of the Mexican Commissioners describing the system here:

    http://tinyurl.com/3qq7sov

    ReplyDelete
  3. Andrew Ecclestone5:57 pm

    The Mexican federal FOI system (InfoMex) not only allows you to retain your anonymity as a requester, but also enables you to do so if you decide to pay for notarised copies of information to be disclosed (electronic copies are free). The system enables you to go to a bank and pay the fee using a reference number that will track back to your request, so the agency knows you've paid up, but doesn't disclose your identity.

    You can watch a video of one of the Mexican Commissioners describing the system here:

    http://tinyurl.com/3qq7sov

    ReplyDelete