International Access to Information Day is an opportunity for all Australian government agencies and ministers to reaffirm their commitment to what is a fundamental right – upholding citizens right to access information. Because information held by government is a national resource and needs to be used for public purposes.
Ensuring that we proactively publish information helps ensure an informed citizenry who can engage with information and provide their contributions to government.
In 2021 Information Access Commissioners and ombudsmen from around Australia produced the Open by Design Principles and they support the proposition that government agencies should put information out proactively.
This ensures that individuals have access to information that could be of interest to a broad range of people. It reduces reliance on the Freedom of Information Scheme and ensures that agencies are building-in access when they're developing documents.
The online environment provides a wonderful opportunity to provide information at scale to Australians, but at the same time, we need to ensure that that information is accessible to all Australians.
That means ensuring compliance with web publication standards, ensuring that material is appropriate for culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people with disability. Because access for information is for all Australians.
More and more Australians are accessing government services in an online environment. So digital inclusion is very important. It's important that we ensure that services are designed with web standards in mind, that they're compliant, that material is culturally and linguistically appropriate for diverse communities, and that people with disability are included in access to information online.
We also need to ensure that there are alternative channels to access information because information held by government is a national resource and it needs to be made available for the public.
The Freedom of Information Act provides two important obligations. The first is that individuals have the right to request access to documents from government agencies and from ministers, and that access must be provided subject to certain exemptions.
But importantly, government agencies and ministers also have an obligation to proactively publish certain information. And this means that citizens have the opportunity to access information that might be of interest to a broad range of people. It helps ensure that they are informed and contribute to public discourse.
Building-in proactive publication by design and default benefits all Australians. It means that information is provided at scale. It can be accessed in the digital environment, and it also reduces reliance on the Freedom of Information Scheme.
Making information available proactively means ensuring that there's systems in place in government agencies to build-in publication and proactive disclosure by default. So that means whenever a document's created, agencies should ask themselves, can this be published? And if not, why not?
Information access is a whole of agency or department responsibility. Freedom of information practitioners across government agencies and in ministerial offices perform a very important role as decision makers. But they need to be supported by business areas who have custody of the documents.
It's also important that access to information is seen as an important part in the senior executive service and an important part of leadership. Leading by example for information access will create the kind of cultural change needed to make sure that information is available by default.
Freedom of information decision makers perform a very important role for Australians. They're upholding Australians fundamental right to request access to documents, and they're balancing the public interest in making their decisions. We need to thank them for all of their work and their important duty to uphold information access rights.
International Access to Information Day is an opportunity for all Australian Government agencies and ministers to reaffirm their commitment to what is a fundamental right, upholding citizens right to access information because information held by Government is a national resource and needs to be used for public purposes.