Australian Information Industry Association submission

1 March 2011


AIIA welcomes this opportunity to provide member input to the discussion paper on a proposed Australian Government Information Policy. The paper seeks feedback on a proposal to develop a revised Australian Government Information Policy and articulates the context and reviews that have acted as the drivers for these considerations. AIIA notes that this paper does not represent draft policy; accordingly, industry input is provided to OAIC on the basis that it will be reviewed in that context, namely as suggestions to improve the recommendations for proceeding with the development of a Australian Government Information Policy in the discussion paper.

AIIA would welcome further engagement and dialogue as the Federal Government through OAIC further develops its approach and plans.

The objectives of OAIC discussion paper

AIIA is broadly highly supportive of the thrust of the direction in the discussion paper however there are areas we offer alternative approaches to that put for consideration. This input has been developed by consultation of members who are engaged directly with Federal Government agencies or have been involved as public servants previously.

The direction outlined in the paper is potentially beneficial for both government and Australia, addressing a domain that has many areas of neglect from an Information Management and Governance perspective; remediation has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for all parties.

However, the general consensus of input from AIIA members is that the volume of effort that will be required is significant, and therefore looming publishing targets are unlikely to be achieved in the current format. Alternative approaches are outlined that may provide a more effective way of achieving the stated objectives, and these are discussed in this document.

As a precursor to the more detailed feedback on the discussion paper, and in the broadest sense, AIIA believes that there is a fundamental concern that the main objectives of the paper are at risk of being compromised for the following reasons.

1 The skill sets required to deliver the outcomes suggested are in short supply;

2 CIOs already carry a very broad portfolio of change and this discussion paper is not limited in its scope to digital assets; and

3 The proposed direction represents a major change program across the portfolios, agencies and other elements of government.

The proposed commenced of the 1st of May 2011 for publishing will, in many cases, be unachievable, and a series of “band-aid” measures may be introduced, defeating the strategic and operational objectives, which as previously stated, are strongly supported by AIIA.

AIIA membership input – process

In establishing member responses, AIIA canvassed all members and groups such as CollabIT and the AIIA’s ACT Branch. This process has resulted in more than 30 points of feedback from industry providers that have been summarised into this response.

The discussion paper provides an excellent summary of the context in which it is written, but its recommendations do not necessarily reduce the cost in the short term for responding to requests for information from business. Indeed it is unclear how multiple requests for the same information will be handled. Unless the deficiencies in the current record, document, and information management regimes are remediated, agencies will incur and seek to impose unreasonable costs to cover a sub-optimal environment. These deficiencies have been identified in a number of ANAO audit reports in the last few years and are also referenced in reviews conducted for government such as the Palmer Report.

Discussion paper recommendations

1. Open access to information – a default position

Information held by the Australian Government is a valuable national resource. As recommended by the Government 2.0 Taskforce, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, access to that information should be open, that is:

  • free
  • based on open standards
  • easily discoverable
  • understandable
  • machine-readable; and
  • freely reusable and transformable

This places a proactive and pro-disclosure obligation on agencies to:

  • use information technology to disseminate public sector information, particularly by publishing information online
  • maximise the amount of information that is published voluntarily, rather than waiting for specific requests under the FOI Act, and
  • apply a presumption of openness when deciding whether and how to publish public sector information

AIIA strongly endorses this recommendation and notes that the World Economic Forum (WEF) has just recognized personal information as an asset. We also would suggest that citizens are not the only target as Local Governments and community groups would derive real benefit if demographic and infrastructure information were more readily accessible and verifiable.

2. Effective information governance

Information held by Australian Government agencies is a core strategic asset that should be managed effectively by:

  • a senior executive information champion, such as a Chief Information Officer within the agency, who is responsible for agency information, management and governance, and
  • an information governance body with responsibility for:
    • maximising the integrity, security and availability of the agency’s information
    • establishing and maintaining strategic planning processes for information resources management
    • providing leadership and direction in the preparation of the agency’s plan for complying with Part II of the FOI Act under s 8(1)
    • ensuring the agency’s information management policies incorporate open access principles and authorise the routine and proactive disclosure of information, and
    • ensuring that the agency engages appropriately with stakeholders about access to information

AIIA supports the principles espoused and believe this customer and business perspective and its advocacy will be very difficult, if not conflicting, where the responsible officer is also seeking to reduce budgets, rationalise systems and applications and enhance sustainability.

As such AIIA suggests that a more effective approach would be to establish a new senior executive role of Information Commissioner to undertake this very substantial body of work in the agencies. Such a role would address the information challenge from a fundamentally different perspective than that of a CIO or the Chief Knowledge Officer, where such roles exist.

Finally we suggest that this approach has the potential to develop a mesh across government that would provide advocacy and support to ensure that these vital initiatives are achieved.

3. Robust information asset management frameworks

Effective management of information throughout its life cycle can be achieved by:

  • developing and maintaining inventories or registers of an agency’s key information assets;
  • identifying the custodians of those assets and defining the custodians’ responsibilities;
  • adequately describing information assets using appropriate metadata;
  • documenting known limitations on data quality and caveats on data use;
  • deciding in advance whether information is suitable for publication;
  • preserving the agency’s information assets for appropriate periods of time;
  • training staff in information management, and
  • protecting information commensurate with the risk of harm that could result from the loss, misuse, or unauthorised access to or modification of such information

AIIA strongly supports the principles espoused and believes that the gap between the current situation and the position described is very considerable. A substantial body of work and continued effort will likely take some years to achieve the proposed outcomes, with National Archives, and indeed ANAO, expected to play a very important role in the process.

4. Findable information

In keeping with the principle that public sector information is a valuable national resource, potential users should be readily able to discover the information an agency has published, and identify assets the agency holds but has not published. This can be achieved by:

  • ensuring that published information has high quality metadata through implementation of the Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) Metadata Standard;
  • applying search engine optimisation strategies to ensure that all published information can be indexed by search engines; and
  • publishing the agency’s information asset register to enable both internal and external users of information to identify the available information resources from a single source

AIIA strongly supports the view that a key attribute of the value of information is its "findability". Our reports indicate that tools and techniques such as those mentioned in this section are not well understood across the public sector, nor are they frequently used.

This status-quo reinforces the criticality of establishing the new role of Information Commissioner and a senior executive service level within agencies and across the public sector to help achieve the stated goals of the policy. In addition to such roles appearing in other public sector jurisdictions, such as Canada, there is also an emerging trend for such roles to be established within private sector companies, which find that the investment required by such a role and supporting structure delivers a significant return to the organisation through the value it brings to the information.

AIIA therefore suggests once again that such a role should be considered.

5. Sound decision-making processes

Sound agency decision-making in relation to open access to public sector information can be achieved by:

  • ensuring clear lines of authority to make information publication decisions
  • establishing mechanisms for potential users of information to apply for release of unpublished information outside of the FOI Act
  • making timely decisions
  • embedding the presumption that agency information should be published free, on open licensing terms, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary
  • identifying where relevant appropriate alternatives to not publishing information, such as publishing subject to caveats or disclaimers, and
  • imposing controls to avoid personal information being published inappropriately or inadvertently in a data set

AIIA fully supports this recommendation.

6. Transparent complaints processes

Agency decision making about information publication should be transparent. This can be supported, within the agency’s information governance framework, by an internal complaints procedure to handle complaints from the public about agency publication decisions outside the requirements of the FOI Act. A transparent complaints procedure will:

  • be published
  • explain how complaints will be handled
  • set timeframes for resolving complaints
  • identify possible remedies and outcomes of complaints; and
  • require decision makers to provide written reasons for all decisions

AIIA strongly endorses the recommendation that a transparent complaints process should be established to gain and maintain trust with the participants. Further, the recommendation that times and process should be explained will further support the development of trust for participants in the process.

AIIA suggest a graphical workflow representation to illustrate the process and where the current ‘event’ is situated in that process.

In addition, the governance of this process and the application of remedies (and possibly even penalties where timelines are not met or information is found to not be delivered) should be considered as this would demonstrate that the government is serious in its pursuit of transparency in this area.

7. Open and accessible formats online

The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is published online in formats that are human-readable and compatible with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines endorsed by the Australian Government in February 2010. Information should so far as possible be published in a format that is:

  • open
  • machine-readable and
  • searchable and indexable by commonly used web search applications

AIIA supports the requirement to have information and data provided in an open and accessible format.

In addition, while AIIA understands the priority for machine readability and processing, we suggest that it should not be at the expense of ensuring the information is human readable.

AIIA suggests there is a delicate balance that needs to be found to deliver both characteristics and ensure that all recipient systems are able to maximise the value that is available.

8. Appropriate charging for access

The principle of open access to public sector information requires that the cost of access to individuals is not unreasonably restrictive. Appropriate charging for access to information can be achieved by:

  • not charging more than the additional marginal cost of providing access to published information, and in particular excluding from calculation cost associated with producing the information
  • using methods of publication, particularly online publication, that minimise the cost to the agency of providing individual access to the information
  • not imposing charges except as authorised by law, including the FOI Act; and
  • supporting any charges that are imposed for agency publications or information in an agency policy that explains the basis for charges and is published and regularly reviewed

AIIA has some concerns with this recommendation, which appears to be in contradiction with the first recommendation, which states that access to information should be free.

AIIA suggest that this introduces a capacity to pay dimension which distorts a level playing field. We would suggest that small local government bodies, community groups and indeed citizens may be placed at a disadvantage as a result of this recommendation.

While we understand that much of this recommendation is seeking to minimise cost to the recipients, we remain concerned that this line of policy may not be appropriate in a public sector context, where the constituent’s taxes already fund the creation of the information in the first place.

In addition, this recommendation introduces a number of logistical challenges that further turn attention from the first recommendation. For example, where multiple parties seek unknowingly the same information, is the cost of access divided by the number of parties?

AIIA therefore suggests that the information is made available for free, consistent with the first recommendation.

9. 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. The Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies requires government agencies subject to the Financial and Management Accountability Act 1997 to consider licensing public sector information, upon release, under an open access licence.

AIIA suggests that the priority of „The Statement of Intellectual Property Principles‟ for Australian Government Agencies needs to be given primacy. The licensing of public sector information should be under an open access license as a default.

Further AIIA notes the scope of this recommendation does not include those bodies that are subject to the CAC Act or government business enterprises; again we would seek extension to these bodies also. This is encouraged in the revised Statement (2010) attached.

Further we would encourage that this be established as a common position of all Australian governments.

10. Engaging the community

In keeping with Australian Government policy that agencies embrace online engagement in policy design and service delivery, the community can participate in agency decision making in relation to publication of public sector information. This can be done by:

  • consulting with the community in deciding which information an agency will prioritise for publication
  • encouraging the community to identify errors in published information, to give feedback to the agency about the quality, completeness and usefulness of published information, and to tell the agency about productive reuse of the information, and
  • responding, either individually or in a public statement, to any comment received from the community

AIIA supports the principle of this recommendation however we have some concerns that it may cause significant delays in actually publishing public sector information. These delays would occur as a result of an agency undertaking public consultation about prioritisation for which there appears to be no limitation of time. Further this could create additional cost and therefore, to some extent, may conflict with recommendations one and eight. We would suggest that the operation and processes that would support this recommendation be strengthened to avoid these risks and allow it to operate effectively.

Community groups and individuals are, in many cases, likely to provide innovative applications and uses of public sector information. As a means of stimulating innovation and supporting these parties, public sector information should be available quickly, freely and as legally unencumbered as possible to maximise the opportunity that it presents. This is a position which AIIA will continue to advocate on behalf of members.

AIIA National Secretariat

For further information regarding this response please contact:

Ian Birks
M: 0408 64 11 22

Loretta Johnson
AIIA GM Policy and Government Relations
M: 0427 790 574
AIIA Head Office
39 Torrens Street
Braddon ACT 2612
Phone: 02 6281 9444