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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

While our two-soon to be one- national information commissioners battle on working from home....

The UK counterpart is subject to a triennial review, examining whether there is a continuing need for its functions and whether it should continue to operate in its current form; and in Canada the commissioner is under the hammer, although she still has an office to go to, support staff and a budget to get by somehow in the new year. 

On the other hand in New Zealand, the Chief Ombudsman, so far immune is picking up the pace, looking into how agencies and ministers deal with requests for information and asking ministers about 'unwritten' directions to the troops.

"As with all triennial reviews, the review of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will examine whether there is a continuing need for its functions and whether the organisation should continue to operate in its current form, considering whether services could be provided more effectively and efficiently. If it is determined that there is a continuing need for the organisation in its current form, the review will assess whether the ICO’s control and governance arrangements continue to meet the recognised principles of good corporate governance. The review will also consider the organisation’s structure, efficiency and performance."

(Something along those lines before he reached a conclusion to abolish the office might have helped Attorney General Brandis' case here. The only one to look, Dr Hawke concluded the Office was doing a good job.)

Vincent Gogolek writing in the Huffington Post Canada recounts testimony by the information commissioner to a parliamentary committee that the number of complaints her office receives from people being denied access to documents by the federal government has shot up 30 percent over the past year, and that her budget has been reduced by 11 percent over the past four years. Gogolek looks with dismay at the Australian government's attempt to abolish the office altogether, suggesting Canada might at least be confident that the government there wouldn't go that far in an election year.

New Zealand
The New Zealand Chief Ombudsman announced a major review of the practices of government agencies in processing Official Information Act requests, something the Australian Information Commissioneer didn't get around to in four years, although I expect funding constraints not the lack of concern about what goes on were responsible. The aim of the NZ project is to assess the quality and integrity of OIA practice across the public sector and to address any issues that are found.
“The effective operation of the OIA is crucial to our system of open and democratic government, and this review will scrutinise how things are currently operating and set out a framework for systemic improvement where deficiencies are identified.”
In this interview Dame Beverley said in recent months, there had been allegations in the media that OIA processes have been circumvented for a variety of reasons, and that had the potential to erode public confidence in the OIA throughout the core public sector.

Survey documents are going out including to ministers' offices. I liked this question:
Are there current or recent unwritten directives issued by the Minister or senior management to office or agency staff about the operation or implementation of the OIA (including guidance to an agency on notifying or consulting the Minister regarding OIA requests / proposed OIA responses / finalised OIA responses / Ombudsman investigations of OIA complaints)? If yes, please provide details.

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