Freedom of Information Report Tabled

Tuesday 13 August 2013 @ 2.54 p.m. | Legal Research | Torts, Damages & Civil Liability

The Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC MP has tabled a report by Dr Allan Hawke AC on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010. The report follows a review, conducted by Dr Hawke, into the extent to which current laws related to freedom of Information (FOI) provide an effective framework for access to government information.

“This is an important report which finds that recent changes to freedom of information law are broadly working well to improve transparency but it also identifies areas requiring fine-tuning for further reform,” Mr Dreyfus said. “The report highlights the need to ensure that the right of access to government-held information remains as comprehensive as possible.”

The FOI Act commenced on 1 December 1982 and, along with the processing and administrative framework, were substantially amended in 2009 and 2010 by the following Acts:

  • Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Act 2009

  • Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010

  • Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010

  • Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations 2010 (No. 1)

The report took into consideration submissions from 81 individuals, agencies, and organisations and consultations held with key stakeholders, including government agencies, academics, and public interest groups, and made 40 recommendations, covering a wide range of aspects of freedom of information law, including:

  • The structure, processing and resourcing of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)

  • The effectiveness of the two-tier system of merits review

  • reformulating current FOI Act exemptions and the impact of abolishing conclusive certificates

  • the application of the FOI Act on agencies and whether agency exemptions should be altered

  • the effectiveness of the FOI fees and charges scheme and the OAIC’s recommendations in its FOI Charges Review

  • the FOI regulatory and administrative burden, including best practice initiatives enhancing administration of the FOI Act at an agency level, including time limits and practical refusal mechanisms

Alongside the report Dr Hawke created the FOI Better Practice Guide to support Australian Government agencies to improve the management of FOI requests. The Guide is issued by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and supplements the FOI Guidelines. It provides practical advice and strategies to promote and encourage positive outcomes for both FOI applicants and agencies.
“The government is examining Dr Hawke’s recommendations carefully and will respond once it has had an opportunity to give them appropriate consideration,” Mr Dreyfus said.

The report and the FOI Better Practice Guide are available on the Attorney-General’s Department website.

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