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Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Gaming" FOI gets a workout

The Australian Financial Review today looks at issues associated with the car industry subsidy Freedom of Information imbroglio, in which the AFR itself is center stage, publishing on-line my opinion piece 'It's clear FOI simply isn't working properly", and articles, "Keeping the lid on open government" by Marcus Priest and Mathew Dunckley, and "Roxon warns of unreasonable FoI blocks" by Marcus Priest. Not a paywall in sight.

The industry department is not the only agency under the spotlight.

The Global Mail also has articles by Bernard Lagan about a 10 month saga to access documents from the immigration department. The GM complained, one of 27 complaints that led to an own motion investigation by Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan into what the GM describes as "the closed-mouth chaos of a critical government department." The report was released by the OAIC yesterday.

In summarising the report ("The Government Lowdown Runaround") Lagan recounts that consultants had been called in to look at management of the FOI function:
Ernst & Young uncovered a culture of fear among immigration officials when it came to releasing information to the public. In their previously unreleased report to the department's managers, Ernst & Young consultants wrote: "FOI staff report that many Department of Immigration staff are not comfortable with the new disclosure environment where there is a widespread fear of releasing information and a failure to recognise that FOI is everyone's responsibility." Ernst & Young urged Immigration's chiefs to counter what they called a "fear of releasing information" culture within the department, saying there was a lack of consistent leadership for changing internal attitudes toward FOI.
Problems identified by the OAIC included undue deference to the minister's office, not enough staff, inadequate arrangements for controlling delays, inadequate staff guidance, poor record keeping, inadequate communication with people applying for information, and poor engagement with the Information Commissioner's staff.

The report lists undertakings by the department to put in place changes which include instructing all Immigration staff they had to meet FOI requests on time, that FOI performance be included in the performance agreements of senior staff, that there be more training for FOI staff and that the department improve its record keeping.

And hopefully less waiting for a nod in the right direction from the minister's office.

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