Public requests for government information increase

Requests for government information from the public have more than doubled over the last ten years, according to a report from the NSW information commissioner.

Elizabeth Tydd

The Government Information (Public Access) Act gives the public a legally enforceable right to access information from the state’s 240 government agencies including councils, state owned corporations, universities, and ministers and their staff.

According to a report by NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd tabled in parliament this week, there were 6,000 applications from members of the public in 2010 compared to 13,690 in 2020.

The government sector accounted to 82 per cent, or 14,082 of those applications, reaching the highest level in 10 years.

There were also significant increases in applications made to ministers and state-owned corporations, but the number of applications received by the local government sector remained stable.

Commissioner Tydd said the growth in applications for government information from members of the public outstripped other sectors including business, not for profits, media and MPs.

“This growth is supported by community attitude studies, which report that more than 85 per cent  of NSW citizens value their right to access information,” she said.

Personal information sought

Meanwhile there was a “staggering” 230 per cent increase in applications seeking personal information from 3,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2020.

Personal information requests amounted to 69 per cent of information requested from government.

Action is required to provide seamless, low-cost access to personal information of the applicant at a time when so much information is held in digital form by government.

NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd

“Action is required to provide seamless, low-cost access to personal information of the applicant at a time when so much information is held in digital form by government,” she said.

State-owned corporations had the highest information release rate at 82 per cent, compared to 77 per cent for councils and 68 per cent for the government sector.

Downward trend in compliance

Commissioner Tydd said while progress has been made, there’s been a downward trend in compliance with disclosure requirements and compliance by government departments with requirements to meet additional open access requirements was low.

Only two departments had a full or partial list of major assets and seven departments failed to fully meet requirements relating to properties that had been disposed of.

“Given the significant role government departments perform, their acquisition and disposal of public assets and their inherent risk of corruption it is concerning that in 2020,” she said.

The report also found low levels of compliance by councils regarding public disclosure of pecuniary and other interests, which it described as a “significant failure of systems, processes and culture”.

Proactive disclosure disappointing

Commissioner Tydd said it was disappointing that agencies were fully complying with ‘proactive disclosure’ requirements to publish open access information.

“We could reasonably expect that after 10 years, significant cultural change had permeated government agencies to achieve mandated proactive disclosure, but that has not uniformly occurred,” she said.

She blamed immature systems and processes but said “more broadly, culture impedes compliance with disclosure of assets by government departments and declarations of interests by local councils”.

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3 thoughts on “Public requests for government information increase

  1. When GIPA is used as a weapon of revenge and the NCAT fails to grasp bigger conceptual approaches to protecting third parties assisting authorities it’s no help for the PIC pointing out minor perfunctory compliance errors instead of looking at the real issues involved in balancing all parties rights.

    1. Appreciate the sentiments about use of the GIPAA for reasons that are not consistent with its core purpose. I have always said this form of information access has been a ‘growth business’. The consequent demands on resources in many agencies are not fully appreciated.

      Unfortunately the role of NCAT is essentially constrained to that of compliance enforcement within the existing policy framework of statutory controls. The policy shapers and policy makers are to be found elsewhere and they need to sustain their efforts to better understand and address the policy implementation difficulties on the ground.

      Practical support for agencies needs to address whole-of-organization approaches to help specialists engage with other key players that are critical to both compliance and enhancing rightful access. Broader business benefits associated with improving capabilities for information access are too frequently overlooked in the competition for business resources.

      Wouldn’t it be good if organizations could better reflect strategic commitment to information access in their community and business planning documents? We frequently see statements of commitment to good leadership and transparency yet the descriptions of desired outcomes and accountability measures tend to be luke- warm.

      1. I appreciate that a NCAT member may feel constrained to the perfunctory but I do feel some intellectual rigour or vigour is not statutorily proscribed and of course that is what appeal processes are for if a party feels liberties have been taken. My experience to date is that s36 of the act is never considered by many in the process…

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