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.