Law Society welcomes call for urgent Freedom of Information law reform

Law Society welcomes call for urgent Freedom of Information law reform

The Law Society of Western Australia has welcomed recommendations of a report into the functioning of Freedom of Information offices across Australia, which has called for proactive information release to be the norm and for better skills and training for public servants.

The Culture of Implementing Freedom of Information in Australia report was released this month, after three years of investigation into the culture and practice of administering the Freedom of Information Acts across Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia – as well as the culture of implementing information access systems.

In April, the Law Society wrote to WA Attorney General John Quigley, expressing concern about the time being taken by the Office of Information Commissioner (OIC) for external review under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) (FOI Act) and calling for reform to the processes and procedures under the WA FOI system – branding it ineffective and impractical.

The letter followed reports from Law Society members that the OIC was not coping with the high volumes of FOI decision complaints.

The Law Society expressed concern that the failures in the system could be impacting upon good government in WA, particularly in relation to transparency.

It said the lack of timeliness in dealing with applications was denying the public the access to information that the FOI legislation clearly intended, and the delays amounted to a significant failure within the OIC and the FOI systems.

Built-in delays surrounding FOI applications increased workloads for review bodies, resulting in a significant backlog of reviews and subsequent delays in the OIC, the Law Society said.

As a result, the objective of public participation in the process of governing the State appeared to be declining.

Researchers for the new report conducted 257 interviews across 96 agencies – 79 of those conducted across 32 agencies in WA. In total 377 surveys were completed across the country – 109 of those in WA.

The report made 11 recommendations, including strengthening a culture of proactive release of information, streamlining consultation requirements and supporting agencies in developing proactive release policies, relevant to their specific needs.

It made three WA-specific recommendations:

  • Review and reform of the Freedom of Information Act
  • Update the OIC WA website to be user friendly to both applicants and practitioners
  • Provide sectors with more bespoke education and examples

The Law Society has been invited to meet WA’s Information Commissioner, Catherine Fletcher, in coming weeks to discuss its concerns.

For media inquiries please contact Deb Kennedy: dkennedy@lawsocietywa.asn.au or (08) 9324 8615

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