South Australia Proves Australia’s Freedom of Information System can be Fixed


The Australia Institute will attend a Senate Inquiry today to highlight flaws in Australia’s broken freedom of information (FOI) system and argue for much-needed reforms modelled on South Australia’s approach.

Bill Browne, Democracy & Accountability Program Director at the Australia Institute will appear before the Senate inquiry into the operation of Commonwealth Freedom of Information (FOI) laws at 1pm Tuesday 29th August.

The Australia Institute’s submission builds on research that finds significant flaws are undermining confidence in the nation’s approach to FOI. 

Key details

  • The Commonwealth FOI review process had a backlog of 967 reviews that have been outstanding since 2021 or earlier, including 34 from 2018
  • In comparison, the Ombudsman SA completed 423 reviews in 2021-22 and only one took more than 12 months
  • Elements contributing to the Ombudsman SA’s success include: a timeframe for making determinations, taking possession of all relevant documents, issuing a provisional determination and making determinations public
  • There should be proactive disclosure of ministerial diaries, cabinet documents and representations to government by interest groups, to take a burden off the FOI system.

Research from the Australia Institute earlier this year found:

  • Last year, 7,505 FOI requests (three in 10) were determined late
  • In 2022, the FOI system cost $2,551 per FOI request determined, more than twice the $730 per FOI request determined in 2007, even after adjusting for inflation
  • The FOI backlog has skyrocketed from 3,313 requests in 2018 to 9,202 in 2022
  • When a Minister leaves office, their documents are often destroyed or otherwise no longer be accessible by FOI – even though the FOI request may have been made months or years earlier

“Democracy depends on feedback between the people and the government, but this cannot happen if the public are deprived of information that they are entitled to,” said Bill Browne, Democracy & Accountability Program Director at the Australia Institute.

“At the moment, Australians cannot depend on FOI requests being processed in a timely manner, and the independent umpire of FOI disputes is logjammed – allowing public officials to escape accountability.

“South Australia’s swift, effective FOI review process proves that a better system is possible, if there is the will to implement it.

“In addition, ministerial diaries, cabinet documents and interest group lobbying materials should be proactively disclosed, instead of leaving applicants at the whims of a chaotic and slow FOI process.”

Related documents

Read The Submission

Related research