Published 12 June 2024

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) third five-yearly review of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) highlights how a concerted effort is required by government agencies to support proactive release of information.

The Information Publication Scheme (IPS) requires agencies to publish a broad range of information on their website and authorises agencies to proactively publish other information. The IPS continues to be an important element in ensuring information held by Australian Government agencies is managed for public purposes and is treated as a national resource.

The results of the review, conducted by survey in late 2023, assist both the OAIC and agencies to identify where improvements can be made to support the proactive publication of government-held information and inform the OAIC’s priorities as the regulator.

Overall, the results provide persuasive evidence that there is much to be done to realise the object of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) that information held by government is to be managed for public purposes and is a national resource.

Freedom of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd said it is pleasing to see some improvements from previous reviews in 2018 and 2012.

“The results show there is strong commitment across the Australian Government to the IPS and a proactive disclosure culture.

“It is great to see more agencies (94%) have reviewed the operation of the IPS in their agency, up from 82% in 2018.

“Another positive outcome is that more agencies indicated they do not charge for information required or permitted to be published under the IPS,” she said.

However, the results also confirm that the systems to promote and support proactive release of information require a concerted effort by agencies.

  • Only 29% of agencies have adopted a strategy for increasing open access to information they hold, down from 35% in 2018.
  • Only 73% of agencies publish information that they routinely release in response to freedom of information (FOI) requests, down from 79% in 2018 and 86% in 2012.
  • 75% of agencies publish consultation arrangements for members of the public to comment on specific policy proposals for which the agency is responsible, slightly above 72% in 2018 but below 86% in 2012.

“These results indicate that the intent of the scheme is not fully realised,” said Commissioner Tydd. “Collectively there is work to do to ensure that the objects of the FOI Act are realised. The FOI Act aims to increase public participation in government processes and increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activities. We have a tool to promote open government in the FOI Act and collectively we can achieve that ambition.

“I have set out a forward plan to work with agencies to promote proactive release of information. This includes continuing to actively engage with senior leaders to secure their commitment to this important and mandated responsibility. It is clear that the involvement of senior leaders in agencies is critical in harnessing the IPS to enable a proactive approach to releasing information.

“The OAIC will also conduct a survey of agency practices and needs and use this information – along with the results of the IPS survey – to inform our provision of resources, and will review the FOI Guidelines relating to the IPS. Our objective is to promote understanding and make compliance easy so that the Australian community receives access to information as intended under the FOI Act.”

While some of the results show continued commitment, agencies still face challenges in proactively publishing information, particularly in the areas of IPS governance and administration, and establishing and maintaining IPS information registers.

There were also significant differences between larger and smaller agencies, with smaller agencies being more likely to report challenges in developing policies and frameworks to ensure compliance with IPS requirements.

“We have been encouraged by the agency response to what is a very valuable exercise to identify opportunities for improvement to the scheme overall and agency compliance,” said Commissioner Tydd.

“Agencies should review both their individual results and the overall trends, and identify ways to move towards being ‘open by design’ by building a culture of transparency and prioritising, promoting and resourcing proactive publication.”

The OAIC will use the survey findings to drive agency compliance and support better practice.

Read the Information Publication Scheme 2023 review report and download the infographics.

Key findings and takeaways for agencies

  • Have a strategy to increase open access to information. Only 29% of agencies have adopted a strategy for increasing open access to information they hold, down from 35% in 2018.
  • Use training to increase the culture of proactive publication. Only 55% of agencies have assigned responsibility for the management or coordination of staff training and awareness of IPS obligations.
  • Invest in information asset management, such as developing and maintaining an IPS information register. Only 20% of agencies maintain an IPS information register, down from 38% in 2018. Maintaining an IPS information register was the most common challenge agencies reported, experienced by 36% of agencies, up from 18% in 2018.
  • Identify connections between information provided in response to FOI requests, information published on the disclosure log and what should be routinely published. Around four in 10 (42%) of agencies have mechanisms for identifying other information that can be published under the IPS, down from 59% in 2018.
  • Consider the categories of information published proactively. Agencies were least likely to publish consultation arrangements for the public to comment on policy proposals for which the agency is responsible (75%), and information routinely accessed through FOI requests (73%).
  • Promote feedback mechanisms, including providing clear information for individuals about how to make a complaint or provide feedback. Only 67% of agencies’ websites provided information about how to complain about an IPS entry.

For help complying with the IPS, visit the OAIC website.

About the report

The Australian FOI Act requires the OAIC and Australian Government agencies to review the operation of agencies’ IPS every five years. As part of the 2023 review, the OAIC required agencies to complete a detailed survey questionnaire and commissioned ORIMA Research to assist with this project. The survey fieldwork was conducted across September and October 2023. A total of 196 agencies participated in the survey out of 209 agencies invited to take part, representing a strong response rate of 94%.