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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Queensland two years into reform:"getting there" not done yet

Queensland Information Commissioner Julie Kinross reflects on two years of oversight of the operation of the Right to Information and Information Privacy acts. And she's still able to smile. "All in all, the reforms have made a real impact in agencies with some further work to do. We are not there yet, but we have made significant progress to getting there." Her assessment is that agencies, departments in particular, "have done more than at any previous time to open up the Queensland government and public authorities."

One area in which Queensland clearly leads the field is attention to the complex issue of measures of performance. In this report the Commissioner adds to previously published information by outlining the challenges of measurement of "open government", providing some further information on aspects of performance that are quantifiable, and foreshadowing release soon of indicators of culture change: a report of surveys of public servants and households conducted by the Office of Economical and Statistical Research already presented to the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee to be publicly released in August after tabling in the Legislative Assembly; and a report on media analysis undertaken by the University of Queensland to be completed and released later this year.

With regard to the Office itself the Commissioner reports the biggest challenge has been the significant increase in applications for external review- approximately 60%.

We think the increase has primarily arisen from the policy change of removing mandatory internal review making it solely an election of the applicant. That is, an access applicant who is dissatisfied with an agency decision under the legislation can now elect to ask for an internal review by the agency or ask for an external review by the Office. Other reasons for the increase are the increased number of reviewable decisions and the Office’s new responsibility for deciding financial hardship applications from non-profit organisations. It is not just the increased volume of external review applications which have affected the Office. The nature of the applications has also changed. Under the Freedom of Information legislation, the Office summarily dismissed a third of applications for external review for various reasons including the application not being in the jurisdiction of the Office. Under the new legislation (and because of it) the ‘rejection’ rate has dropped to less than 20%. Taken together, this means that not only has there been a significant increase in the number of external review applications, but also in the resources they require. There are far more applications and far more are substantive applications, requiring more time and more resources to finalise.

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