Our reference: 2010/3639

Professor John McMillan AO
Australian Information Commissioner
GPO Box 2999
Canberra ACT 2601

Dear John

Issues Paper 1 – Towards an Australian Government Information Policy

Thank you for your correspondence of 7 February 2011 inviting comment on the recent publication Issues Paper 1 Towards an Australian Government Information Policy.

The Archives welcomes the direction of the Paper and notes that the articulation of a whole-of-government information policy fills an identified gap for agencies across the Australian Government jurisdiction. The Paper succinctly consolidates recent reports and initiatives in information management and provides a very useful reference point for all agencies.

The Archives particularly welcomes the opportunity this Paper presents to clarify the respective and complementary roles and responsibilities of key government information management agencies. The clarification of roles will provide practical guidance to agencies seeking assistance in the implementation of information management reforms and accelerate the identification of solutions to problems arising in the day-to-day management of information.

In addition, an Australian Government Information Policy presents an opportunity to ensure that whole-of-government information initiatives and any new proposals have a common framework within which to operate.

In relation to the policy intent and the principles contained in the Paper, the Archives supports the ten Principles proposed in the Paper and notes that the Principles will serve as a cornerstone of the Government's information reform package to improve equity and ease of access to public sector information for all Australians. The Archives supports these important principles which also underlie the aims of the access provisions of the Archives Act 1983.

The Archives believes that the Paper could be strengthened by providing greater emphasis on sound records management practices as the ability to find and make available meaningful information is compromised unless the information is properly managed from the time of its creation. As noted in the Government 2.0 Taskforce report "Good information and records management is an essential enabler of access to and reuse of PSI. Agencies need to know what information they have got, how important it is, how to find it and how to keep it for as long as it is needed." Sound records management aims to ensure that records are managed from their creation so that the records retain their context and meaning over time. This ensures that records can be located, that their validity and authority can be assured, and that their proper destruction or other disposition can be carried out legally in accordance with authorities issued by the National Archives.[1]

The above mentioned records management principles underpin accountability and integrity. These principles are important not only to facilitate open government initiatives, but also the administration of legislation that underpins the rights and entitlements of Australian citizens, including access rights, such as the Privacy Act 1988, Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Archives Act 1983. This has been acknowledged in many government reports, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman's 2007 Lessons for Public Administration, the first of which is to maintain accurate, comprehensive and accessible records.[2]

In addition to the above comments on the intent and principles contained within the Paper, the Archives has the following specific comments to make:

  • The Archives recognises that agencies need to ensure that the responsibility for information management is addressed at an appropriate senior executive level within an organisation and that information management is managed holistically across the agency
  • The Archives notes that the Information Advisory Committee "will be comprised of members from key government agencies and members from outside government who have suitable experience or qualifications" and will be established to assist the Information Commissioner. The Archives is very interested in participating as part of this Committee should the opportunity to do so arise

Draft Principle 2 on effective information governance discusses the need for an information governance body. The Archives supports the Principle's emphasis on openness and on appropriate consultation. The Archives suggests that this Principle could be further strengthened by placing emphasis on ensuring that the agency's information management policies incorporate disclosure of information in accordance with the administrative and legislative framework.

Some of the principles proposed in the Paper address records management measures. In particular, Principle 3 raises the need for a management framework for information assets. Principle 3 could be strengthened by making explicit mention of the need to adhere to records management principles. The Archives thinks it is important that an Australian Government Information Policy explicitly recognises the requirement for good records management.

The above suggestion is consistent with the approach taken in Queensland, whose Information Principles include, 'Managed: Information is actively planned, managed and compliant'.[3] Similarly, New Zealand's Policy Framework for Government-held Information includes, 'Stewardship: Government departments are stewards of government-held information. It is their responsibility to implement good information management.'[4]

It is also suggested that Principle 3 could be enhanced with the inclusion of an additional dot point

  • documenting known limitations on data use arising from contractual matters relating to intellectual property, agreements with other jurisdictions, and private sector companies

Documenting known limitations on data use would ensure that important limitations are implemented and enable limitations to be challenged by the information governance body within the agency as appropriate.

Draft Principle 5 relating to sound decision making processes mentions exemptions relating to personal information but for clarity this should be expanded to make mention of other exempt information that can exist and the need to put in place appropriate mechanisms to assess and manage such information. The following change to the last dot point within this section is suggested to draw attention to the breadth of exemptions and information management issues that can influence decision-making:

  • imposing controls to avoid personal information or other material exempt under legislation or agreements being published inappropriately or inadvertently included in a data set
  • The intention of Draft Principle 8 is to promote accessibility through appropriate charging. In support of this intention the Archives believes that this Principle could be improved through the provision of further advice on cost recovery to facilitate consistency in charging methodologies across the Commonwealth

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments. Should your staff have any inquiries on this matter they can contact Mr Len Marsden at the Archives on (02) 6212 6299.

Ross Gibbs
March 2011

[1] Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0, Page 71 http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/gov20taskforcereport/index.html.

[2] Commonwealth Ombudsman Lessons for Public Administration: Ombudsman investigation of referred immigration cases, Report No. 11, August 2007.

[4] http;//www.e.govt.nz/policy/information-and-data/policy-frainework-for-government-

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