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OAIC annual report confirms increase in FOI and privacy activity

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) Annual Report 2011–12 shows a steady increase in workload across the OAIC’s three functions — freedom of information (FOI), privacy and information policy.

The Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan said it was a busy but rewarding year. ‘2011–12 was the first full year of operation since the OAIC was established on 1 November 2010,’ said Professor McMillan. ‘This was a year of consolidation, but also a year in which the OAIC dealt with a growing workload and a heightened awareness of information management issues in government, business and the community.’

‘The OAIC enquiries line handled 21,317 telephone calls (a 3% increase on the previous year), and 2822 written FOI and privacy enquiries (a 47% increase). The office received 1357 privacy complaints, 126 FOI complaints, 456 applications for Information Commissioner review, 2237 extension of time notifications and requests, and conducted 37 privacy own motion investigations.’

In FOI , the OAIC conducted a review of FOI charges and a survey to assess agency compliance with the publication requirements under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). 

Reflecting on the FOI Act reforms that commenced in November 2010, Professor McMillan commented that they were instrumental in strengthening open government. ‘Access to information requests have greater prominence in government. There is a marked increase in FOI requests for policy-related material, more media reporting based on FOI Act disclosures, and greater public awareness of access to information rights.’

Government agencies and ministers covered by the FOI Act reported that they received 24,764 FOI requests in 2011–12, an increase of 4.9% on the previous year. The number of FOI requests that agencies had on hand at the end of the year decreased by 14.9%. The reported cost attributable to agency compliance with the FOI Act was $41.719 million, an increase of 14.9% on the previous year.

There was also a greater preparedness by applicants to complain about or challenge agency disclosure decisions. ‘The OAIC received 126 FOI complaints during 2011–12, and 456 applications for independent merit review of access denial decisions. A theme that emerges strongly in complaints and reviews is that FOI processing can be improved through improved communication between agencies and FOI applicants: focusing the scope of an FOI request so that it can be processed in a timely manner, and keeping the applicant informed of progress’.

Public concern with privacy protection was reflected in complaints, high level data breaches reported in the media, and own motion investigations by the OAIC.

‘The OAIC dealt with 1357 privacy complaints, which was an 11% increase on the previous year. Thirty seven investigations were initiated, including some high profile investigations into data breaches occurring in national corporations. The office handled 8976 privacy-related telephone enquiries, 1541 written enquiries and 46 data breach notifications. All this points to an increasing level of community awareness and concern about privacy’, Professor McMillan said.

Looking forward, Professor McMillan expected that 2012–13 would be an equally busy year for the OAIC. ‘We expect a continuing increase in privacy and FOI enquiries, complaints and review applications. Reforms to the Privacy Act 1988 are expected to be passed by the Parliament, and an independent review of the FOI Act and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 will commence in November 2012. The OAIC will also conduct an active program to promote proactive information and data publication by government agencies,’ Professor McMillan said.

The following Commissioners are available for interview:

  • Professor John McMillan (Australian Information Commissioner)
  • Timothy Pilgrim (Privacy Commissioner)
  • Dr James Popple (Freedom of Information Commissioner)

The OAIC annual report can be accessed here: http://www.oaic.gov.au/publications/reports/annual-report_11-12/index.html

Media contact: Ms Leila Daniels – 0407 663 968 or media@oaic.gov.au