Can you imagine a world where it would be easy for the government to provide you with information? A world where you can access meaningful information when you need it and, in some cases, without asking for it first? I can.
It is possible, and government agencies can take steps now to turn this into reality.
Community attitude studies Tell us that most people agree that access to government-held information improves transparency and accountability. Timely and comprehensive access to information is essential to exercising individual rights and facilitating informed public debate.
Every member of the community has the right to access their own personal information and to know about the workings and workings of government. In Victoria, this legal right is granted to you in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (vic).
Although there are times when government information cannot be disclosed, due to the need to protect an essential public, private and commercial interest, these situations are meant to be the exception and not the norm.
In a world where you can easily access government-held information, you can expect agencies to create and store fewer exempt records and approach access requests with a pro-disclosure attitude. Yet the Office of the Information Commissioner of Victoria’s (OVIC) State of Freedom of Information in Victoria report from 2019 to 2021 shows the number of times agencies have determined documents to be exempt from disclosure. or refused to process an Access to Information (FOI) request, nearly tripling over previous years.
A recent study commissioned by OVIC on Attitudes of the Victorian community towards access to informationalso found that only half of respondents felt the agency was helpful when trying to access information, and more than a quarter did not receive requested information.
Also in the OVIC report on the State of Freedom of Information in Victoria 2019-2021nearly 20% of requesters did not receive timely access to records, and nearly 65% of complaints filed with OVIC involved agency delays in processing freedom of information requests.
There are changes the Victorian public sector could make right now that would make it easier and quicker for you to access information.
A starting point is the role of senior leaders in public sector organizations in fostering a culture and enabling public access to information processes.
Another key change is that government agencies have a policy on what information and documents can be made public without the need for an access to information request. This would be complemented by the fact that public sector personnel would be asked to identify a document or information for publication at the time it is created or stored. When a document contains information that is not intended for dissemination, document templates can prompt staff to identify and record non-disclosure information in a way that facilitates access to the rest of the document.
Likewise, as government agencies increasingly use artificial intelligence technologies to automate decisions and deliver government services, you have the right to receive meaningful information about how these technologies are being used. To do this well, agencies must be proactive in identifying the types of information to document and make available to the public.
As a member of your local and state community, you should not be disadvantaged by delays in access to government-held information caused by an access to information culture and practices that are reactive to the release of information. information, rather than proactive.
There are ways to make it easier for government agencies to access information. It is possible, and on this International Freedom of Information Day, I urge the Victorian public sector to commit to leadership, openness and innovation to make it happen.