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Chapter 4: Develop and implement information policy

Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Towards an Australian Government Information Policy
  3. Principles on open public sector information
  4. Other information policy activities

Overview

The freedom of information reforms in 2010 extended the freedom of information (FOI) scheme from a ‘reactive’ or ‘pull’ model to a ‘proactive’ or ‘push’ model of information disclosure. The reactive model was devised in an age when government information was largely recorded in documentary form and the prevailing view was that government had generated that information for its own purposes and ostensibly owned it. The main feature of the reactive model is that individuals have an enforceable legal right of access to government information on request. This remains a fundamental element of Australia’s commitment to open government.

The introduction of a proactive model of information disclosure in amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) that commenced in 2010 reflects a new age of thinking about government information management and disclosure. The reforms rest on the idea that information held by government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource. Moreover, a great deal of government information is held in electronic form and is suitable for web publication. Making government information more accessible and widely available enhances Australian democracy and stimulates economic and social innovation and community participation in government.

As discussed in Chapter 3, proactive disclosure is reflected in the new objects clause in the FOI Act, and is given effect through the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) and disclosure log.

The FOI reforms occurred in parallel with the creation of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which has responsibilities for FOI and privacy matters. In addition to these functions, the Information Commissioner is required to report to the Minister on matters relating to Australian Government information management policy and practice. This function draws on the insights gained by the office in its oversight of FOI and privacy law and administration.

Reflecting its broad interest in all aspects of government information management, the OAIC is committed to defining the scope of a national information policy framework. A key objective is to ensure that all agencies, in discharging their information management responsibilities, work in a professional and consistent manner to make government information available as widely as possible while respecting legal protections.

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Towards an Australian Government Information Policy

There is now a strong conviction within government that policy development, decision making and service delivery can be undertaken more successfully if there is greater sharing of government information and engagement with the community.

The recommendations of the 2009 Government 2.0 Taskforce report, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0, focused on sharing information and engaging with the community by harnessing the opportunities presented by technology. The OAIC is among the Australian Government agencies that are now regularly using web 2.0 interactive technologies to engage with the community in policy development. The Information Commissioner is a member of the Steering Group that is implementing the recommendations in the Gov 2.0 Taskforce report.

On 16 July 2010, the Australian Government implemented a central recommendation of the Taskforce report by making a Declaration of Open Government.[4] Strengthening citizens’ rights of access to information and establishing a pro-disclosure culture across Australian Government are core principles of open government.

The national information policy framework to be defined by the Information Commissioner will maximise the value of Australian Government information by driving public access to government information and proactive agency publication of information. Alongside a high-level policy framework, practical strategies are also required to ensure that public sector information is ‘open by default’. Through its work in information management policy, the OAIC is working to provide agencies with those strategies.

The OAIC produced its first publication in the sphere of information policy, Issues Paper 1 - Towards an Australian Government Information Policy, to coincide with the launch of the office on 1 November 2010. The Issues Paper reviewed significant government reports on information management and outlined some of the key issues that face the Australian Government in developing a coordinated information management policy.

The Issues Paper proposed 10 draft principles on open public sector information. These focused on publication of information by agencies and proposed a framework for reducing barriers to publication and reuse. The Information Commissioner invited comment on the draft principles and other matters raised in the Issues Paper. In keeping with the goals of open government, the OAIC ran a public blog where the draft principles and other issues relating to open public sector information were discussed. Strong endorsement of a set of principles to drive government information policy and promote open public sector information emerged from the consultation.

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Principles on open public sector information

Following the consultation, the Information Commissioner published eight Principles on open public sector information with an accompanying report during Information Awareness Month, which fell in May 2011. The report discussed the comments received during the consultation and explained the thinking behind the revisions that were made to the Principles. The OAIC is now encouraging agencies to embed the Principles in their internal information management policies.

Principle 1: Open access to information – a default position

Information held by Australian Government agencies is a valuable national resource. If there is no legal need to protect the information it should be open to public access.

Principle 2: Engaging the community

Agencies should consult the community in deciding what information to publish and about agency publication practices.

Principle 3: Effective information governance

Agencies should manage information as a core strategic asset. An ‘information champion’ or knowledge officer should be responsible for information management and governance.

Principle 4: Robust information asset management

Agencies should implement robust information asset management. This includes keeping an information register, training staff, and establishing clear procedures on information publication and release.

Principle 5: Discoverable and useable information

Information held by agencies should be easy to discover and use. Agencies should ensure that information published online is in an open and standards-based format, is machine-readable, uses high quality metadata so that it can be located and linked, and is published in accordance with relevant accessibility requirements.

Principle 6: Clear reuse rights

The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is made available for reuse on open licensing terms.

Principle 7: Appropriate charging for access

Agencies should provide public access to information at the lowest reasonable cost. Public access charges should be clearly explained and consistent with the FOI Act.

Principle 8: Transparent enquiry and complaints processes

Agency decision-making about information publication should be transparent. The procedure should be published, explain how enquiries and complaints will be handled, set timeframes for responding, identify possible remedies and complaint outcomes, and require written reasons to be given when resolving complaints.

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Other information policy activities

Integrating information policy

The integration of information policy into the activities of the OAIC is reflected not only in the name of the new organisation, but also in its strategic goals and planning, its logo and the allocation of resources to this new policy area.

Submissions and advice

The OAIC has integrated information policy considerations into many of the submissions it has made to parliamentary and other inquiries, and into the advice provided to Australian Government agencies.

Liaison with agencies

The OAIC has worked with other agencies on a range of issues related to information management. For example, the OAIC has liaised with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) on the accessibility of information, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework (AusGOAL) on the licensing of public sector information, and the National Archives of Australia on records management.  The Commissioners have also provided high-level briefings to a range of agencies about the OAIC’s role and responsibilities, including in relation to government information management.

Speeches

The Commissioners have delivered a number of speeches throughout the year addressing aspects of information policy.  For example, the Information Commissioner delivered a speech discussing the relationship between metadata and information policy to the ‘Meta2011’ conference in May 2011, and a speech on open government and information policy to the Australian Government Chief Information Officer Forum in June 2011. Other staff presented speeches addressing information policy to the ‘Data Management Association Australia’ conference in June 2011, at the ‘Australian Computer Society Canberra 2011’ conference in March 2011 and at the ‘Evolving Models of Governance and Accountability’ conference in February 2011. A full list of speeches delivered by Commissioners is at Appendix 7.

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Footnotes

[4] The Declaration was issued by the then Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Hon Lindsay Tanner, on behalf of the Government.

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