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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Senate estimates a breeze for OAIC

Nothing remarkable from the Office of Australian Information Commissioner half hour appearance before Senate Estimates on Wednesday. Resources are tight, about three quarters of what was promised, and the review backlog was 356 cases at mid-may, with the longest outstanding on the books for 15 months. Overall Professor McMillan is pleased with agency performance. As to concerns:
Among the problems that have been raised with us are publication only of details of information and not the documents online. Secondly, there is the problem—not so much under the disclosure log but under the Information Publication Scheme—of information that was one published being taken down. We are investigating a couple of complaints about that at the moment to see whether it was just part of normal archival practices within the agency or whether there was something more sinister, as the complaint alleges. We have also had complaints, particularly from journalists, about same-day publication under the disclosure log—that is, documents published on the disclosure log on the same day that they are released to the journalists. The complaint is that they can lose the benefit of their request. And we have had agencies raise with us the practical challenges they face in converting hard-copy documents into a web-accessible online form, particularly the costs. So they are among the challenges that have been raised.
On cultural change:
I think there have been substantial moves across government. If one looks, for example, at the disclosure logs and at the type of information that is now published; if you look at the changes in agency practice—for example, the Defence practice of now proactively releasing its Hot Issues Briefs; if you look at the staffing levels in agencies, in terms of both the number of staff and the seniority of staff now devoted to FOI and publication; if you look at the level of engagement of senior agency officers now in FOI and publication issues, I think there has been a large cultural change. But, wherever one draws the line between openness and secrecy, you can always move it just a little further towards greater openness, and that is our perpetual challenge.
 In some agencies more than "just a little further" seems necessary.

Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim had it easy-no questions-although he had a big day on the other side as the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 was introduced in the House of Representatives,.Just two and a half years after the government announced its "first phase" acceptance of many of the recommendations of the ALRC 2008 report.

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