There is a marked increase in FOI requests for policy-related material, an upswing in applicants challenging access refusals through the OAIC’s independent complaint and review processes, and more media reporting based on documents obtained by FOI requests.
Most agencies and ministers have demonstrated an understanding of their obligations under the Act to facilitate and promote public access to information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost. Many parts of government have embraced the Act’s objective: promoting Australia’s representative democracy by increasing public participation in government processes and increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government actions. However, some agencies have made decisions, or dealt with FOI applicants, in ways that
are at odds with the pro-disclosure culture that the FOI Act promotes and requires...Agencies do not always take reasonable steps to assist applicants to make their FOI requests, as agencies are required by the Act to do.
Privacy issues featured prominently in public debate during the year just passed. Unfortunately, much of this resulted from incidents in which peoples’ personal information was compromised, often on a large scale.
In 2011–12 there was a 3% increase in telephone enquiries to the office, a 47% increase in written enquiries, and an 11% increase in privacy complaints. In the new freedom of information (FOI) roles the office receives on a monthly average 11 complaints and 38 applications for Information Commissioner review (IC review)
on 30 June 2012, the OAIC had 357 IC reviews on hand: 56% of the total number of IC reviews received since November 2010. During the reporting period, the OAIC took a number of steps to improve its efficiency in dealing appropriately with IC reviews. These steps produced some measurable improvements. At the end of April 2012, the OAIC was finalising, on average, 0.56 IC reviews a day; by the end of June 2012 the finalisation rate had risen to 1.77.
The 16.4% increase in the number of FOI requests for non-personal information in 2011–12 predominantly occurred in agencies that do not receive many requests. Across the top 20 agencies, the increase was only 2.8%; across the remaining agencies and ministers’ offices it was 48.0%. For example, Comcare’s non-personal requests increased by 381.8% (11 to 53 requests), DFAT’s by 170.3% (37 to 100), and PMC’s by 150.0% (66 to 165). Increases in the number of FOI requests for non-personal information were also experienced by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) (35.1%), DoHA (32.7%), the Trade Marks Office (19.9%) and AGD (15.8%).
Nothing was paid for applicant's legal costs again this year, illustrating how hard it is to get something even where an applicant wins in the AAT.
Agencies with average cost per request greater than $10,000 included Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (1 request) $94,212, Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (2) $79,862, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (1) $54,144, National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (9) $29,710, Future Fund Management Agency (4) $22,089 Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (83) $16,135, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (43) $15,960, Geoscience Australia (2) $15,650 and Tax Practitioners Board (13) $14,573.