Information Commissioner Releases FOI Review Findings
27 March 2012 at 1:51 pm
The Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, has released a report proposing changes to the way charges are imposed for giving access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act).
The report recommends changes to the FOI Act to enable a better balance between providing public access to government information without impairing the other responsibilities of agencies and ministers.
"A balance must be struck, but the current method in the FOI Act of striking that balance is inadequate. The charging framework is not easy to administer, the cost of assessing or collecting a charge can be higher than the charge itself, and the scale of charges is outdated and unrealistic," Professor McMillan said.
The review commenced in October 2011, and involved a discussion paper; consultation with the public, Australian Government agencies and advisory committees; and written submissions from community organisations.
"Members of the public told me that FOI costs should not be a barrier to someone exercising their democratic right to access information. Nor should charges discriminate against economically disadvantaged applicants. Government agencies raised various issues relating to the complexity of the charges framework and that the scale of charges has not altered since 1986," Professor McMillan said.
"The theme throughout the report is that applicants and agencies can equally benefit from a new charges framework that is clear, easy to administer and understand. A new charges framework can support agencies in building an open and responsive culture. It can also provide a pathway for applicants to frame requests that can be administered promptly and attract little or no processing charge".
Professor McMillan noted three primary ways this change could be brought about:
- encouraging agencies to develop, and applicants to use, administrative access schemes before resorting to the formal legal processes of the FOI Act
- introducing a new FOI charges scheme that is clear and straightforward to administer including a flat charge of $50 for the first ten hours of research.
- reinforcing the important role that internal review can play in quickly and effectively resolving disagreement between an applicant and an agency about a document request
The report has been provided to the Attorney-General for the Government's consideration. Professor McMillan invites comments or submissions on the recommendations in the report. His office says consideration will be given to whether more formal consultation will be undertaken with a view to presenting a supplementary report to the Attorney-General.
Professor McMillan says he welcomes comments about the charges review report on the OAIC blog.
A full copy of the report can be accessed online here.