Information commissioner faces five year backlog of FOI requests

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner faces a backlog of requests to review FOI decisions by agencies and ministers stretching back five years, a senate committee has heard.

Information Commissioner Angelene Falk

Australia’s Information Commissioner Angelene Falk told an estimates hearing last week that at the end of February there were  2,213 outstanding FOI reviews, of which around half are more than 12 months old.  Sixty-seven had been lodged in 2019.

The backlog has grown by 160 requests since the same time last year, she said.

Senator David Shoebridge asked Commissioner Falk: Is there an explanation for why you have 67 matters that have taken five years?

Commissioner Falk replied that it was “a historical matter that’s been compounded over the years” and the result of a lack of resources.

However she noted there had been a significant increase in the number of Information Commissioner decisions made in the last financial year.

She also said that following a 60 per cent increase in applications for reviews in 2021-22, applications decreased last financial year for the first time since 2015,  and there were 12 per cent fewer applications for the year to date compared to the same period last year.

FOI system ‘broken’

Mr Shoebridge suggested it would take in excess of 15 years to deal with the backlog.

“The numbers that you’ve given suggest you’re not going to fix it. Do we just accept that the FOI system will remain broken for the next decade and a half? Is that how should I read the numbers, Commissioner Falk?” he asked.

 “The data that I have suggests that if we are able to continue to make a 15 per cent improvement in terms of efficiencies on review applications, that will enable us to bring the backlog under control over the forward estimates,” Commissioner Falk replied.

“But what would, of course, make a significant difference would be to have additional resources to be able to apply to that.”

Commissioner Falk said the OIAC has been “greatly strengthened” by the appointment of two new commissioners, with Elizabeth Tydd starting work as Freedom of Information Commissioner on February 19 and Carly Kind commencing as Privacy Commissioner on February on 26.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required