WA Office of the Information Commissioner submission

18 February 2011

Western Australia

Office of the Information Commissioner (Western Australia)
12th Floor St Martin's Tower, 44 St George's Terrace, Perth WA 6000
PO Box Z5386 St George's Terrace. Perth WA 6831
Telephone: (08) 9220 7888 Facsimile: (08) 9325 2152
Freecall (WA Country): 1800621 244
Email: info@foi.wa.gov.auwww.foi.wa.gov.au

Professor J McMillan
Australian Information Commissioner
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
GPO Box 2999

Dear Prof. McMillan

Towards an Australian Government Information Policy

Thank you for your letter dated 3 February 2011 inviting my comments on OA1C Issues Paper 1 Towards an Australian Government Information Policy (the Issues Paper). I appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on this important initiative.

To put my comments into the appropriate context, it is important for me expressly to note that my current legislative role under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) is limited to dealing with complaints about decisions made by agencies under that Act. I do not have an express role in the development or oversight of a broader information policy in my jurisdiction. In addition, I have not undertaken any consultation with other agencies in my jurisdiction, nor with the Western Australian Government, in formulating my comments. These comments, therefore, represent only suggestions based on my own experience. I hope they will prove of some value to you.

Based on my knowledge of the operations of the Australian Government and the various developments and initiatives outlined in the Issues Paper, I consider that the development and implementation of a coherent and clear information policy is desirable. As the Issues Paper points out, there have been numerous initiatives over the last decade in this area. These would benefit from the increased consistency and clarity which an overarching policy would bring. In addition, the recent legislative amendments in Commonwealth freedom of information legislation provide a timely opportunity to translate high level goals of open government into principles which can be used by agencies in their operations.

I consider that the biggest single issue for the successful development and implementation of an information policy is to overcome resistance to the significant change which it would represent. This highlights the need to secure, and constantly reinforce, support for such a policy both at the highest level of the Australian Government, as well as at executive and operational levels within the Australian Public Service. Inevitably, a policy will at times conflict with existing practice and philosophy. I am sure that you are well aware of this, however I would encourage you to continue to develop and reinforce the support and governance for the development and implementation of such a policy. I would suggest that the clear existence of such support and governance is at least as, if not more, important than the content of any policy itself. The Australian Government's Declaration of Open Government released in July 2010 provides a solid foundation in this regard.

The only particular comment I would have on the content of the draft information principles is in relation to the findability of information as outlined in Principle 4. My experience in administering the Western Australian Freedom of Information Act 1992 has shown that many agencies still find it difficult accurately and reliably to find documents in response to a freedom of information request. Addressing this requires not only the adoption of appropriate standards and systems, but also a high level of awareness and skill among officers who maintain, enter and retrieve documents. If this is not done reliably, it will fatally undermine the goals of an information policy. To this end it may be appropriate to refer not only to standards and strategies, but also to the importance of awareness and training.

I trust that my few comments above will be of some use to you, and wish you success in the development of this initiative.

Yours sincerely

Sven Bluemmel

Information Commissioner

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