Draft commitment: Information management and access laws for the 21st century

This is a draft commitment for Australia’s first National Action Plan (the Plan).

Australia will consider options for reforms to the framework for managing and accessing government information, including the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), the Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act) and, where relevant, the Privacy Act 1988 (with primary focus on the Archives Act and FOI Act), as well as policies and practices relating to information access and management.

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This commitment reads

We will ensure our information access laws are modern and appropriate for the digital information age.

Read rest of the draft commitment in full (one page) and give your feedback. This will be published here, and given to the Interim Working Group who will consider all the public submissions.

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Here’s what people are saying

What would make this commitment better?

Cassie Findlay says:

I agree with other commenters that the commitment lacks detail. I would also adjust its wording. Certainly access to information laws should be ‘modern’ in that they are written with the possibilities and risks of of digital information in mind, and with regard to changed public expectations regarding personal privacy and public/corporate transparency. However we also need to address the complexity and conflict amongst the existing laws. It is currently very difficult, even for information management professionals, to navigate through the varying requirements in them and across the levels of government where differing rules apply. Translating these requirements into systems to streamline processes is therefore also difficult. So I would suggest the commitment emphasise the need for harmonisation as well as modernisation. And look at this across the law ‘types’ (privacy, archive/records, information security etc) and across jurisdictions and levels of government.

Please include information security requirements for government information and government policy and directives on open data in the scope of the review. With regard to open data, the dividing line between its operation and FOI is increasingly blurred and marked only by record/information format. This needs urgent attention, and both of these areas need to be looked at in light of the harmonisation mentioned above.

Can we also please ensure that indigenous Australians including the stolen generations, and care leavers, are explicitly included for consultation, and that this is stated in the commitment. These groups have unique and incredibly important requirements and views on what access to information means and how its processes should be managed.

Brendan Manning says:

While acknowledging the importance of a responsive and transparent information management scheme in the digital age, the outcomes being sought do not satisfy many concerns addressed by Dr Allan Hawke’s review of Freedom of Information Laws. Specifically:

Recognition that Government-held Information is a National Resource to be Managed for Public Purposes &

A need to revise the FOI Act to promote a culture of disclosure and transparency.

A pro-disclosure approach continues to meet resistance in some areas and is not yet an integral part of everyday public service ethos. Australian Government agencies need to pursue a deliberate strategy of reform and adaptation, and this
must be driven from the top. Compliance with the FOI Act is not only a legal obligation, but an essential part of open and transparent government. Public servants must continue to be frank, fearless and professional in the provision of advice of ministers, knowing that the FOI Act provides the necessary protections should they be required.

Henare Degan says:

Being specific. It doesn’t get much more vague than “consider options”. We know there are issues with FOI and its implementation in Australia. All you need to do is take a look at a few requests on Right To Know to see the kinds of issues citizens are having. This commitment should directly address some of these issues at a minimum. For this commitment to be transformative it needs to include more ambitious plans. An example might be legislating that datasets must be proactively released if they get requested via FOI.

Luke Bacon says:

It’s great to see government and civil society coming together to identify improvements to public access that can be made by improving our FOI and records systems.

As it stands this commitment doesn’t actually mention giving the public greater and easier access to government information. Because it isn’t specific in it’s aim is to consider reforms, it would be possible to fulfil this commitment whilst making little or no improvements to public access and government accountability. A measurable aim, like ‘increase the number of government documents made accessible in response to information requests’ for example, would help us achieve concrete improvements for citizens as we implement this commitment.

This commitment would be more specific, ambitious and achievable if it was adjusted to:

  • put the experience of citizens as the main consideration; and,
  • make the objective practical and measurable.

Peter Timmins says:

The stated commitment captures the need for attention to improving law and practice. Plenty of ambition there. However the action steps listed as milestones reflect a narrow less ambitious plan. The milestones should set out the path to be followed to ensure law and practice are fit for the 21st Century.

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