Open Government Partnership – Australia

3.1 - Information management and access laws for the 21st century

Objective and description:

Australia will ensure our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age.

As part of this, we will consider and consult on options to develop a simpler and more coherent framework for managing and accessing government information that better reflects the digital era, including the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), the Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act) and, where relevant, the Privacy Act 1988 (with primary focus on the Archives Act and FOI Act), which is supported by efficient and effective policies and practices.

Status Quo:

In 2010, the Australian Government passed reforms to the FOI Act as part of a broader plan to improve transparency and to encourage public engagement in decision making. The 2010 reforms also included the introduction of the Information Publication Scheme, which requires agencies to provide a broad range of information on their websites, and amendments to the Archives Act to reduce the open access period for Commonwealth records from 30 to 20 years over a 10 year period.

There have since been a number of reviews recommending changes to the FOI Act, including Dr Allan Hawke’s Review of Freedom of Information Laws and the Belcher Red Tape Review. Among other things, the Belcher Red Tape Review recommended the Attorney-General’s Department “begin work with relevant entities to scope and develop a simpler and more coherent legislative framework for managing and accessing government information during its life-cycle in a digital environment through staged reforms, commencing with legislation regulating archives.”

The core frameworks of Australia’s information access laws (in particular the FOI Act and the Archives Act) have not been substantially altered since enacted in the early 1980s, when government operated in a paper-based environment. It is therefore appropriate to consider how access to government information is best managed into the future within the context of digital government.

The implementation of Australia’s information access laws is overseen by the National Archives of Australia and the independent Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The Government is committed to ensuring the adequate resourcing of the OAIC to discharge its statutory functions, and provided funding for this purpose over the next four years in the 2016-17 Budget.

Ambition:

To develop a simpler and more coherent legislative framework for managing and accessing government information within the context of digital government, supported by efficient and effective policies and practices.

Relevance:

This commitment will advance the OGP values of access to information and public accountability by:

  • ensuring government information access laws are modern and capable of meeting the demands of the digital age;

  • increasing awareness of public access rights to government information; and

  • improving efficiency of processing access to information requests.

OGP Grand Challenge: 

  • Increasing Public Integrity

  • Improving Public Services

Timeframes:

January 2017 – July 2019

Lead agency:

Attorney-General’s Department (informationframeworks@ag.gov.au)

Other actors involved: 

  • Government - The National Archives of Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

  • Non-government - Non-government organisations (including Australian Open Government Partnership Network, Accountability Round Table, and Australian Privacy Foundation), peak bodies (including Law Council of Australia, Australian Press Council, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance), ,archivists, academics and researchers, journalists, and state/territory information commissioners

Milestones:

  • AGD undertake work with a range of stakeholders (government and non-government) to better understand how current information frameworks operate in practice and identify issues.

    • January 2017 - March 2017

  • AGD develop, in consultation with stakeholders, a range of options for reform to information access laws, policies and practices, including consideration of oversight mechanisms.

    • March 2017 - June 2017

  • AGD conduct broad public consultation on options for reform to information frameworks.

    • July 2017 - August 2017

  • Recommendation to Government, informed by consultation outcomes, on preferred reforms to deliver a coherent and simpler framework for information management and access, supported by effective and efficient policies and practices, that is appropriate for the digital information age.

    • September 2017 - December 2017

  • Implementation of Government decision on reforms to information access laws, policies and practices.

    • 2018 - By July 2019