We produced guidelines and other resources during this reporting period to promote FOI best practice and help Australian Government agencies understand their FOI obligations.
In June 2019, we amended Part 5 of the FOI Guidelines about the exemption in s 46 of the FOI Act (where the disclosure of the requested documents would be a contempt of Parliament or a Court) to reflect the IC review decision: Seven Network (Operations) Limited and Australian Federal Police (Freedom of information)  AICmr 32 (6 June 2019). This was the first IC review decision to consider the exemption.
Administrative access resource
In September 2018, we re-issued FOI Agency Resource 14: Access to Government Information — Administrative Access. We sought comments from interested stakeholders about the readability and accessibility of the revised resource.
The resource helps agencies and ministers understand administrative access and emphasises the importance of considering administrative access as an alternative to formal FOI processes. This approach is consistent with the object of the FOI Act to facilitate and promote public access to information promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.
The resource is available on our website under FOI Guidelines, Administrative Access.
Disclosure log determination
Section 11C of the FOI Act includes some circumstances in which an agency or minister is not required to publish information released in response to FOI requests on their website. Section 11(1)(c) of the FOI Act provides that if the Information Commissioner has made a determination under s 11C(2) of the FOI Act, an agency is not required to publish information specified in the determination.
On 28 November 2018, the Information Commissioner made a determination under s 11C(2) of the FOI Act: Freedom of Information (Disclosure Log — Exempt Documents) Determination 2018.
This determination establishes two circumstances in which an agency or minister is not required to publish information, in addition to those already found in s 11C of the FOI Act. The additional circumstances are:
- Information was exempt from disclosure when the agency or minister gave access to the applicant.
- Information in the document that the agency or minister would have decided was exempt at the time access was given to the applicant, if the request had been made by someone other than the applicant.
The determination is otherwise substantially the same as the previous determination and will be in effect for five years.
We sent 13 newsletters and updates to FOI contact officers who signed up to our ICON members. These newsletters included news and information about FOI, information management and general OAIC updates. ICON members also received alerts including reminders for upcoming ICON events, reporting and policy updates, and summaries of recent IC review decisions.
We participated in a range of activities throughout the year to raise awareness about accessing government-held information, the role of the OAIC and our processes.
ICON information sessions
We re-established six-monthly information sessions for information contact officers. These ICON sessions were held in Canberra in September 2018 and April 2019. Both sessions were attended by more than 70 information contact officers.
The ICON sessions provided an opportunity to network with FOI colleagues and to discuss information access issues. Examples of topics covered at ICON meetings include:
- policy and operational updates from the Information Commissioner and other key OAIC staff, including the Deputy and Assistant Commissioners
- the role of the FOI practitioner in promoting accountability and transparency
- the OpenAustralia Foundation introducing its Right to Know website
- the National Archives of Australia published a new records authority for ministerial records.
National Association of Community Legal Centres Conference
In August 2018, staff from the OAIC attended the National Association of Community Legal Centres Conference in Sydney, where they explained the right to access government-held information to staff from community legal centres across Australia.
Australian Government Solicitor forums
The Information Commissioner gave the keynote address at the Australian Government Solicitor’s FOI and Privacy Forum in Canberra on 17 May 2019.
In her address, ‘From personal information to information access rights: building a strong foundation for our democracy and digital economy’, the Information Commissioner spoke about how important it is for practitioners to handle personal information in an honest and ethical way. She also canvassed the international access to information landscape, sharing insights from the International Conference of Information Commissioners in South Africa in March.
Right to Know Day 2018
International Right to Know Day is held on 28 September each year. In 2018, we promoted the event and general awareness of information access rights with a digital campaign.
The campaign included three short videos highlighting information access themes: ‘It’s your right to know’, ‘How to make an FOI request’ and ‘12 tips for FOI decision-makers’. These videos are available as an ongoing resource on our website and YouTube channel.
Staff also set up an information booth at Wynyard in Sydney to promote Right to Know Day on 28 September. They talked to more than 500 commuters and provided printed material about open government and the right to access government-held information.
The AIAC issued a joint media statement for Right to know Day following a meeting hosted by the OAIC in Sydney on 20 to 21 September 2018.
The statement encouraged all government agencies across Australia and New Zealand to take a proactive approach towards releasing information and documents.
The community’s right to know is the foundation of open and accountable government. Access to the information and data held by government strengthens our democracy by promoting greater public participation and scrutiny and supporting better decision-making.
International Right to Know Day, held on 28 September, recognises citizens’ right to access this information and reinforces the importance of transparency in building trust in government. As Information Commissioners we strive to promote and uphold the fundamental right of citizens to access government information.
We are also supporting information access officers in carrying out their very important role as part of the effective management of government-held information.
Statement of Australian and New Zealand information access commissioners for International Right to Know Day 2018
We released a new website for public feedback in June 2019 (see performance measure 1.7.4).
Between May and August 2018, we undertook an IPS survey of all Australian Government agencies subject to the FOI Act. ORIMA Research conducted the survey on behalf of the OAIC.
The survey reviewed the operation of the IPS in each agency and gave agencies an opportunity to comply with the requirement to conduct a review under s 9 of the FOI Act. This section requires an agency to complete a review of the operation of the IPS within their agency as appropriate from time to time and within five years of the commencement of the IPS.
The final report was published in June 2019. The survey had a response rate of 82% (compared to 78% in 2012) with 190 agencies participating.
The results show the IPS continued to be an important element in ensuring information Australian Government agencies hold is managed for public purposes and is treated as a national resource.
Agency responses confirmed a continued commitment to IPS requirements and principles, although a decline was observed in the four key areas of compliance measured in both the 2012 and 2018 survey. Larger agencies generally reported higher levels of compliance with IPS requirements and better practice principles, compared with micro to small agencies.
Compliance with the IPS is an ongoing statutory responsibility for agencies subject to the FOI Act. The survey’s results have helped us to identify areas where improvements can be made to further promote the proactive publication of Australian Government information.
FOI processing statistics received from Australian Government agencies and ministers
Below is a selection of the FOI request processing statistics provided by Australian Government agencies and ministers to the OAIC. The figures have been rounded to the nearest whole number. For detailed figures, see Appendix D.
The number of FOI requests received across Australian Government agencies increased by 13% from 34,438 in 2017–18 to 38,879 in 2018–19. This increase was experienced in both requests for personal information and other (non-personal) information; however, the increase in personal requests was more pronounced (15% higher than 2017–18) than non-personal requests (3% higher than 2017–18). The increase in requests for personal information is in large part due to the Department of Home Affairs receiving 24% more personal requests in 2018–19 than in the previous financial year.
In 2018–19, 32,440 or 83% of all FOI requests were for documents containing personal information. This is marginally higher than in 2017–18 and 2016–17 when 82% of all requests were for personal information.
In 2018–19, the Department of Home Affairs, the DHS and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs together continued to receive the majority of FOI requests (69% of the total). Of these, 96% were for personal information.
The percentage of FOI requests processed within the applicable statutory time period decreased from 85% in 2017–18, to 83% in 2018–19.
The percentage of FOI requests granted in full increased from 50% of all requests in 2017–18 to 52% in 2018–19 and the number of requests refused decreased from 16% of all FOI requests in 2017–18 to 13% in 2018–19.
The personal privacy exemption in s 47F of the FOI Act remains the most claimed exemption (38% of all exemptions claimed).
The total reported costs attributable to processing FOI requests in 2018–19 was $59.85 million, a 15% increase on 2017–18 ($52.19 million).
Australian Government agencies and ministers issued 2,225 notices advising of an intention to refuse a request for a practical refusal reason in 2018–19. This is a 47% decrease on the number issued in 2017–18. Of these requests, 77% were subsequently refused or withdrawn; that proportion was 84% in 2017–18.
There was a 7% decrease in the total charges notified in 2018–19 but a 6% increase in the total charges collected by Australian Government agencies ($122,774).
The total number of entries added to agency website disclosure logs in 2018–19 (1,200) is 9% higher than 2017–18, when 1,104 new entries were added. However, the proportion of entries from which members of the public can directly access disclosure log documents from agency websites remains low at 59%.
There was a 12% increase in internal review applications in 2018–19. Of the 829 decisions on internal review, 429 (52%) affirmed the original decision, 91 (11%) set aside the original decision and granted access in full and 232 (28%) granted access in part.
For more information, see Appendix E.