Published: 8 July 2024

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner today published an update on its Freedom of Information caseload outcomes for 2023/24.

“The figures demonstrate that the 8-year growth of the FOI Backlog has been arrested. As a result, with sustained commitment we are positioned to be a more contemporary and effective regulator,” Australian Freedom of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd said.

Applications for review by the Information Commissioner of FOI decisions made by agencies and Ministers have risen  every year but two since the establishment of the OAIC, averaging 12% per year. In 2023/24 the OAIC received the second highest number of  applications since establishment  – 1762[1].

Each year the OAIC has managed to increase the number of cases finalised, in some years by as much as 35%. Limited resourcing has not met the ongoing demand and since 2018 the OAIC has carried forward an average of 270 FOI review cases per year. The cumulative impact is a significant backlog of aged cases.

“This year we successfully arrested that growth trajectory for the first time in 8years, notwithstanding the increase in applications of 7%. We finalised 1753 FOI review cases – a 15% increase in finalisations. That means that for the first time we are keeping pace with growth,” Commissioner Tydd said.

“This significant improvement is transformational – it increases our ability to focus on more recent matters. To be effective we must be current. That means our decisions and investigations must reflect current, not historical agency practices, placing us in a better position to meet community expectations and play an important role in supporting democracy by upholding the fundamental right to access government information.”

The OAIC’s service improvements have been wide ranging:

  • Despite a 27% increase in FOI complaints, there was a 204% increase in finalisations. Overall FOI complaints on hand to were reduced to 78 and all FOI complaints received and registered up to 2022 were finalised.
  • Conducted and finalised 24 complaint investigations in 2023/24 - a seven-fold increase.
  • Issued 207 review decisions – a 200% increase.
  • Revised the FOI Guidelines and produced 2 Procedural Directions to direct agencies’ processes towards prompt finalisation and improve their first instance decision making.
  • Conducted and finalised the Information Publication Scheme review (conducted every 5 years). Positioned with this intelligence we have embarked on a concerted program to assist agencies in meeting their proactive publication requirements.
  • Advanced an active program of engagement, monitoring and provision of regulatory guidance including publications, webinars, and statistical reporting.

“These improvements significantly outweigh the modest increase in internal resourcing. The results provide a baseline from which we must build,” Commissioner Tydd said.

“While refined working procedures and committed staff have contributed to the improvement, sustaining this progress and further improvement is dependent on resources and the number of reviews requested.

“Looking ahead we will also work with agencies to improve their decision making and guide their FOI practices to ease compliance. In doing so our objectives are to ensure that the Australian community enjoys their right to access government information and, we effectively contribute to a healthy democracy.

[1] All figures are indicative and preliminary and may be subject to change