Search This Blog

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Victorian Ombudsman finds lots of problems in FOI review

The Victorian Ombudsman has tabled his report on review of FOI policies, practices and procedures in the 10 budget departments of the Government and the Victorian Police.

The Ombudsman thought that delay was the key issue in Freedom of Information decisions but others who read the report rather than the media release thought otherwise – The Age headlined their story “Deception, secrecy to obstruct FOI” and the Australian “Ministers hinder FOI laws”. Both these reports and the ABC focused on his comments about politicisation of the FOI process, and the intervention of ministers and their staff in decision making.

The report is another in a long line of reports at Federal and state level that demonstrate that FOI laws are not self implementing, and illustrate delay, political interference and a culture of defensiveness in its case studies.

The Ombudsman recommends some changes to the Act among them aligning FOI and privacy laws by common use of the term personal information, new powers for a vexatious applicant declaration and the adoption of more proactive disclosure along the lines of the UK's publication scheme requirements.

He also points out serious deficiencies in determinations, comments about the need for more systematic training and urges the Department of Justice to provide more and better leadership and support for all agencies through setting appropriate standards for FOI processing and issuing practice notes to guide agency staff and to update on developments.

Having found delay is a major problem the Ombudsman recommends that agencies be given more time to deal with applications. Victorian agencies already have 45 days - the Ombudsman says they should have an additional 30 days when consultation with third parties is required. This misses the point that a failing in all Australian FOI legislation is to treat all applications as if they are the same. The reality is that some are large and others aren't. There should be a process for additional time only for the very large category.

The real message from this and other reports: “Strong and ongoing leadership the only answer to the open government problem”.

No comments:

Post a comment