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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New policies in NSW FOI Manual

Those in the NSW public sector responsible for Freedom of Information issues have no doubt been reading the fine print of the new Manual issued by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the NSW Ombudsman. As is well known, it has appeared 13 years after the last government guidance on the interpretation and application of the Act.

At 376 pages, it's a big read. It includes a whole range of new policies on various aspects of managing FOI requests. They are spread throughout but we have consolidated them in this document in the order in which they appear. Policies range from important issues right across the board to very minor matters. Some other important guidance in the Manual hasn't been given policy status.

The Manual also reflects differing opinions of the Department and the Ombudsman on various issues. This together with brief reports of sometimes conflicting court decisions may add to confusion amongst FOI practitioners rather than provide the long awaited clarity on important issues.

Unfortunately the Premier didn't take the opportunity in putting his name on a memorandum to ministers, to commit the Government to high standards of transparency.

Or to emphasise the importance of FOI and related issues.

Or like his Victorian counterpart to commit the government to an overhaul of the Act and a review of access to government information generally in the light of the information rich, technology enhanced world in which we live.

The NSW FOI Act, and associated policies and procedures are still very much "horse and buggy" in the google age.

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