Page 2627 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 21 September 2022

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time expiring whilst agencies wait to receive information that is necessary for their consideration of the request.

Secondly, the bill provides legislative clarity in several instances. For example, the bill clarifies open access publication obligations and provides greater certainty about when extensions of time given by the Ombudsman are appropriate and permissible. These amendments will better support agencies and applicants to interpret and understand the FOI Act and their entitlements and responsibilities.

Thirdly, the bill aims to increase the efficiency with which respondents process information access requests. For example, the bill requires third parties who object to the disclosure of information to provide their views to agencies earlier. The bill also encourages applicants to respond more quickly and more proactively to requests to clarify the scope of applications. The bill also sets clearer time frames for parties to an Ombudsman review to provide requested particulars.

Fourthly, the bill increases the processing time initially granted to respondents, from 20 to 30 working days. This increase to the processing time reflects the reality of processing times under the act and avoids the need to request relatively small extensions in time, which are already being granted or agreed to in most instances.

We know that the commencement of a new FOI regime in 2018 has made processing access applications more time intensive, yet the statutory time frame for deciding access has not been adjusted to reflect this. In 2020-21 only one directorate had a processing time average of 20 days or fewer. Processing times in all other directorates exceeded 20 working days but only slightly. Six out of eight directorates had an average processing time of 27 days or fewer.

If the majority of applications are resolvable in 27 days or fewer, then this means that the majority of extension requests are for small periods of time, like seven days or fewer. Increasing the statutory processing time from 20 to 30 working days avoids the need for these small extensions of time and saves respondents, applicants and the Ombudsman from the administrative burden associated with seeking, agreeing to or granting them.

As you can see, this amendment is not intended to delay access to government information in practice but is a necessary update to the legislation to ensure that statutory time frames are fit for purpose. In addition to these efficiency measures, the bill provides greater scope for the ACT Ombudsman to review decisions to make open access information publicly available and to give access to government information.

Changes that improve the efficiency of the framework make the FOI Act work better for applicants, the public sector and the Canberra community. Nothing in the bill undermines the transparency and accountability of government that the scheme promotes. Our conventions of representative democracy and responsible government are strengthened by a robustly defended right to access government information and efficiently administered FOI legislation.

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