3.1 - Information management and access laws for the 21st century
This commitment will ensure Australia’s 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 (Privacy Act) with primary focus on the Archives Act and FOI Act, which is supported by efficient and effective policies and practices.
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 the efficiency of processing access to information requests.
The core frameworks of Australia’s information access laws (in particular the FOI Act and the Archives Act) remain substantially the same as when they commenced in the early 1980s when government operated in a paper-based environment. It is therefore timely and appropriate to consider how access to government information is best managed in the future in the context of digital government.
In 2010 the Government passed reforms to the FOI Act as part of a broader plan to improve transparency and to encourage public engagement in decision-making. Since then, there have been a number of reviews recommending changes to the FOI Act, including:
- Dr Allan Hawke’s report, Review of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (2013)
- Ms Barbara Belcher’s report, Independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (2015) (Belcher Review); and
- Professor Peter Shergold’s report, Learning from failure: why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past (2016)
The Belcher Review made a number of recommendations relating to information frameworks, including in the areas of information and communications technology, planning and reporting, publishing and tabling, Senate continuing orders, FOI, and the Protective Security Policy Framework. Notably, the Belcher Review found there was duplication, inconsistency and a lack of coherence in the operation between information access schemes under the FOI Act, the Privacy Act and the Archives Act.
Recommendation 18.4 of the Belcher Review (which the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) is responsible for implementing) is linked to Commitment 3.1, and is:
Recommendation 18.4: AGD 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 implementation of Commitment 3.1 and recommendation 18.4 provides an opportunity for a holistic assessment of information frameworks and consideration of wide-ranging legislative and policy reform. Reform to information frameworks would provide strong support to information projects across Government by setting the overarching framework for information management and access, and providing a strong driver to progress reforms in policy, technology and culture.
AGD has highlighted commitment 3.1, along with AGD’s other OGP commitments, on the Department's website. Submissions and names of attendees at public consultations on commitment 3.1 are available at https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/Australias-open-government-partnership/Pages/Commitment-3-1-Information-management-and-access-laws-for-the-21st-century.aspx
In January to June 2017 the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) undertook a discovery phase of user research, consulting with a broad range of stakeholders (government and non-government) to better understand how current information frameworks operate in practice. On 19 June 2017, AGD’s Facebook page also sought feedback on user experiences. AGD adopted the Digital Transformation Agency’s user-centred design approach to consultation, to better understand what users need, expect and experience. For this purpose, AGD held discussions with a total of 113 individuals:
- 33 government agencies, including government stakeholders specified in the National Action Plan: National Archives of Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as state/territory information commissioners (Information and Privacy Commission NSW and the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner)
- 28 civil society members, including those specified in the National Action Plan, members of non-government organisations (Accountability Round Table, and Australian Privacy Foundation), peak bodies (including Law Council of Australia and Australian Press Council), archivists, academics and researchers, and
- 10 end users.
On 25 July 2017, AGD held a showcase (information session) to present its findings from the discovery phase to key Government stakeholder agencies Finance, National Archives of Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OGP Secretariat). DHS also attended as mentor of AGD’s adoption of user-centred design and of the DTA’s Digital Service Standard. The Showcase included the following agenda items:
- an oral briefing from the AGD project team outlining its key findings;
- information about AGD’s forthcoming ‘Policy Jam’ (workshop) on 30-31 August; and
- updates from agency attendees on the status of their OGP Commitments and any related projects.
Milestone 2 and 3
On 30-31 August 2017, AGD held a Policy Jam facilitated by the Department of Human Services Design Hub to continue its user-centred design approach to implement Commitment 3.1. The Policy Jam was developed under the guidance of a team from AGD, Department of Human Services, National Archives of Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and civil society representatives including the Interim Convenor of the Steering Group of the Australian Open Government Network. Participants included:
- government stakeholders specified in the National Action Plan (National Archives of Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) and state/territory information commissioners (Information and Privacy Commission NSW and the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner)
- civil society stakeholders specified in the National Action Plan: members of non-government organisations (Accountability Round Table), peak bodies (Law Council of Australia), archivists and academics.
The aim of the Policy Jam was for AGD to present its findings of the discovery phase and for government, non-government and civil society stakeholders to come together to develop and co-design reform options to make access to, and management of, government information easier in the 21st century. Common themes raised by Jam participants included views that:
- cultural reform is required to make systemic improvements to the creation and management of and access to government-held information.
- it is important to recognise that Government holds information in trust on behalf of the public; Government should also consider how to give individuals greater ability to choose how and when information about them is shared.
- cost efficiencies should be considered, including what information management solutions are currently available and how to leverage existing systems.
- reforms should include measures to improve education of public servants and the community on information access and management issues.
The options developed at the Policy Jam informed and assisted in the development of a recommendation to Government under Milestone 4 below. Further information about the Policy Jam is available on AGD’s website at https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/Australias-open-government-partnership/Pages/Commitment-3-1-Information-management-and-access-laws-for-the-21st-century.aspxs
In December 2017 AGD provided recommendations for the Government’s consideration setting out possible next steps to improve the operation of current information management and access frameworks. The recommendations took into account the options developed at the Policy Jam along with other feedback from the consultation to date.
Government: National Archives of Australia, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Non-Government: Non-government organisations (including the 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.
Steps to implementation
|Implementation Step||Implementation Period||Status|
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.
AGD develop, in consultation with stakeholders, a range of options for reform to information access laws, policies and practices, including consideration of oversight mechanisms.
AGD conduct broad public consultation on options for reform to information frameworks.
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.
Implementation of Government decision on reforms to information access laws, policies and practices.
|Jan 2018-July 2019||Not yet commenced|
Status updates for commitments are provided approximately every two months. With each update, agencies are encouraged to provide further and better particulars of the commitment and its steps to implementation, which may result in changes to timelines outlined in Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18.