Freedom of Information gets more attention

by Bill Browne

Good news in the Budget for the many journalists, researchers and other Australians with outstanding Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Funding has been announced for a separate Freedom of Information Commissioner operating out of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). When an agency makes an FOI decision you do not like, or misses its deadline to make any decision, you can apply for the OAIC to review the decision.

Even with the addition of a new commissioner, OAIC head Angelene Falk is still expected to wear two hats: Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner. Ms Falk told Senate Estimates in March that the OAIC is projected to review 829 freedom of information decisions per year – but got 1,066 requests in 2020 and expects that to rise to 1,622 requests a year.

FOI review requests heading towards double of request capacity

So a dedicated Freedom of Information Commissioner is urgently needed, and its presence in the Budget is a testament to independent Senator Rex Patrick’s dogged pursuit of the issue.

But unless this new commissioner can handle 800 FOI requests a year all by themselves, more resources and staff are needed for the OAIC to do its job. The OAIC as a whole gets new staff next year, but also new responsibilities. Spreading the OAIC too thinly will mean no redress for Australian truth-seekers when FOI requests are ignored or poorly handled by the Government.

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