Page 2626 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 21 September 2022

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In 2018 the ACT revolutionised its approach to FOI, when the Freedom of Information Act 2016 came into effect. The new regime moved government to a pro-disclosure model for providing access to government information. It gave every person an enforceable right to obtain access to government information where it is not contrary to the public interest to disclose, and required that the act be administered as far as possible in favour of disclosing government information.

We have evidence that the act is working to facilitate access to government information. The annual reports prepared by the ACT Ombudsman give us valuable insight into the operation of the act each financial year. For example, in 2020-21 a total of 1,688 decisions to publish proactively on the open access portal were made. This was an increase on the 1,430 decisions published in 2019-20.

The introduction of the new act has also led to a sustained increase in the number of access applications received by agencies. Although demand has tapered slightly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of applications received each year since 2018 has been measurably higher than those received under the old FOI regime.

In 2020-21 the government received 918 access applications. In the same year 97 per cent of decisions made on these applications were decided within the statutory time frame. That is within the standard time frame or where an extension was granted by the applicant or the Ombudsman. This is a positive reflection on Canberrans interacting with the FOI system and exercising their right to access government information.

Nevertheless, while the evidence is that the new act is working well, the increase in demand has led to significantly increased workloads for agencies. This reflects the more detailed analysis and reasoning required to be articulated in decisions and a range of new administrative requirements in the act. We hear this from our FOI processing teams across directorates and we also heard it in an independent review report prepared for the ACT government by Deloitte in 2021.

The government has invested considerable resources in our FOI system to respond to the increased processing demand. Since the new act came into effect in 2018, the government has committed an additional $6.5 million to our FOI system, on top of existing recurrent funding, including 12 new full-time positions to work in FOI processing teams across government.

It is important that we ensure that our FOI regime is sustainable over time. Processing resources need to be used as efficiently as possible to achieve the best results for applicants. It is with this in mind that the government introduces the Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2022. The bill will improve and streamline the processing of FOI access applications and reviews and provide greater flexibility in managing workflows in order to meet the objectives of the act more efficiently for applicants and the broader public.

The bill does this in four key ways. Firstly, the bill makes a range of amendments to address processing issues, including pausing processing time to ensure that as much of the statutory time frame is spent by agencies actively processing requests, rather than

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