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Friday, October 26, 2007

"Could do better"

Annual report time.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Annual Report provides a one page (page 108) summary of FOI complaints received and dealt with during the year. About 300 complaints in all with Centrelink and the Department of Immigration featuring prominently. Delays in processing and complaints about the agency decision are the main issues.

The NSW Ombudsman as usual goes into a lot more detail about FOI complaints received during the year. Chapter 20 has the details (Freedom of information.pdf). Over 200 formal complaints, and a lot more informal ones.

The Report highlights a couple of areas of concern - the downward trend in the percentage of determinations where all documents were released (81% in 1995-96, to 52% in 2005-6); delays in processing, sometimes of four months or more; failure to provide reasons to justify refusal of access; unjustified class claims that certain types of documents are subject to legal professional privilege; and a failure by some agencies to offer discount on charges where public interest warrants.

Agencies that feature in case studies in the report include the Office of State Revenue, City of Sydney Council, RailCorp, Energy Australia, the RTA, Macquarie University and Manly and Fairfield City Councils.

Appendix G (Appendices.pdf) lists the number of complaints against each agency. Not all were the subject of preliminary or formal investigation but those that broke double figures were: Corrective Services (10); Education and Training (13); Health (20); Police Force (63) and RTA (12).

Access to information issues concerning local councils are also mentioned in the chapter dealing with Local government.pdf . The Ombudsman reports that after some years of inaction, Sutherland Shire Council finally disclosed critical information about public safety risks to residents living next to Kurnell Oil Refinery.

'Could do better' is still what comes through from these reports.

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