FOI is a crucial part of the beneficial information feedback loop between the government and the people. However, our FOI system is broken and cultural and legal changes are needed to fix it.
This submission summarises the results of a report released earlier this year by The Australia Institute on Australia’s freedom of information (FOI) system, which found that:
- There were considerable delays with the FOI system, both in the processing of requests and the review of FOI complaints.
- The cost to process FOI requests had risen dramatically over the last 15 years.
- The FOI review process is clearly under-resourced.
- The FOI system did not meet community expectations.
- Government ministers and officials were delaying and obfuscating releasing FOI information.
This submission expands on that analysis by presenting the South Australian FOI review process as a model that could be adopted federally.
The South Australian FOI review process works much faster than the Commonwealth process, which in turn makes it more effective. As of 22 May 2023, the Commonwealth Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) had 967 reviews that had been outstanding for more than 16 months.
In 2021-22 only ten of the 423 FOI reviews that the Ombudsman SA completed took more than 180 days. In 2021-22, the average time the OAIC took to complete a review was 192 days and for the Ombudsman SA the average time a FOI review was open was 86 days.
The submission also makes a number of recommendations to improve FOI culture, resourcing and process.