Search This Blog

Friday, April 25, 2008

NSW Ombudsman FOI review in the news

More comment about the planned Ombudsman review of Freedom of Information in NSW in an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, and by Rick Snell in today's Australian, including these observations about the current state of play:

The Herald( scroll down to "What's the big secret?"):

"( The Ombudsman's work) will have little impact unless the Iemma Government embraces the spirit of the freedom of information law instead of thwarting it.
The Freedom of Information Act is an endless source of aggravation to those trying to use it, whether community organisations, journalists, businesses or individuals. Requests that should be processed in weeks can take months. Some requests are flatly refused, while those documents that are released may be out of date, heavily censored or not what was sought. Then there's the money: a single application can easily cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Of course, it is hardly surprising that some bureaucrats think their job is to release as little as possible; they are simply taking their cue from a government obsessed with controlling information to avoid criticism.

Announcing his inquiry, Mr Barbour declared freedom of information legislation a cornerstone of good governance: "It ensures government decision-making is open and transparent, and that decision-makers are held accountable." No wonder Labor has been so reluctant to have effective legislation in NSW."

Rick Snell:

"The risk with the NSW Ombudsman's review is that it will take too long. The chances are high that any recommendations will either be ignored or delayed yet again and the NSW Government will go to the next election still fixated on excessive secrecy.The problems with FOI are not isolated to NSW.

There has been a recognition that all is not well with FOI across all levels of government in Australia. The success stories are far too rare and often the result of a long, costly and persistent struggle by a few applicants. Some of the blame can be traced to complex, inconsistent and obsolete statutory provisions or charging regimes that are easily manipulated or abused by over-secretive agencies.

The deeper problems lie in the level and extent of variable compliance by different government agencies. Many in the highest levels of the bureaucracy demonstrate a puzzling reluctance to accept that FOI acts were adopted by parliaments to transform the way government agencies handle information.

Some within the public service have administered FOI as if it was merely a quickly passing fad and something alien and unnecessary. Too often those officials committed to implementing the FOI Act have been sidelined, poorly funded and treated as politically naive and excluded from internal debates about whether information should be released."

No comments:

Post a Comment