The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has made recommendations to ensure the Department of Home Affairs is able to meet the statutory processing periods specified under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI) Act.
The information considered in a Commissioner-initiated investigation by the OAIC indicates Home Affairs does not have adequate governance and systems of accountability in place to comply with statutory time frames for processing FOI requests for non-personal information.
Over the past four financial years, more than 50% of the FOI requests to Home Affairs for non-personal information were processed outside of the statutory processing period.
The OAIC’s investigation report published today notes that factors contributing to delays include inadequate processes for addressing the escalation and finalisation of decisions, and inadequate training of non-FOI staff engaged in specific FOI requests.
The investigation also found that a greater degree of senior-level support for embedding policies, procedures and systems for compliance would assist Home Affairs in meeting statutory processing periods under the FOI Act.
FOI is a whole-of-agency responsibility, requiring the support of senior staff to ensure policies and procedures are adequate and operationalised.
The report notes that many of the findings and recommendations in the investigation have been the subject of previous reports, indicating a serious need for issues of delay to be rectified and sustained.
The OAIC has recommended Home Affairs:
- appoint an “Information Champion” to promote and operationalise its compliance with the FOI Act
- prepare and implement an operational manual for processing requests for non-personal information, and make it available on its website
- provide additional FOI training to staff
- audit the implementation and operationalisation of the recommendations and provide a copy of the audit report to the OAIC.
Home Affairs has accepted the recommendations and indicated it will implement them in full.
The OAIC will continue to work with Home Affairs to ensure the recommendations are implemented and that its policies and procedures evolve over time to enable it to meet its obligations under the FOI Act.
The OAIC will also monitor compliance through quarterly FOI statistics submitted by Home Affairs, and through complaints and applications for Information Commissioner (IC) reviews of FOI decisions.
Under the FOI Act, Australian Government agencies and ministers have a statutory obligation to process FOI requests within 30 days unless the time period is extended as permitted under the legislation.
Before commencing its investigation in October 2019, the OAIC had received a number of FOI complaints and review applications related to Home Affairs’ compliance with meeting timeframes.
The OAIC finalised its report on 11 December 2020 and provided the investigation findings to Home Affairs. A response from Home Affairs is included as an attachment to the report.
The report is available on the OAIC’s website.