FOI in Australia - NSW Ombudsman calls for comprehensive review of the legislation

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the state of FOI in Australia:

Statistics from the New South Wales Ombudsman - who monitors how FoI laws operate - show there were 22,000 applications under FoI laws in 2002-03, double the figure just seven years earlier. However, while there are more and more applications, applicants are learning less and less. The Ombudsman says that in the mid-1990s agencies disclosed documents in full to 80 per cent of applicants, while the most recent figure is just 51 per cent.

"... the FoI laws have become a patchwork of amendments, additions and deletions. It's time to examine both the FoI Act and how well it meshes with other legislation covering public access to government documents. The Ombudsman complains that having different laws covering access to the same information confuses the public and government agencies alike. The practical effectiveness of the whole regime must be examined.

"The Ombudsman's last annual report complained that the office has been seeking a comprehensive review of FoI laws for more than a decade. The Ombudsman wants the review done by a judge or former judge. The Government should act before the Ombudsman has to make the same complaint yet again this year. When the FoI Act was introduced in July 1989, a full review of the legislation was promised after two years. More than 16 years have passed. Good government is transparent and accountable - it has nothing to hide."

What's the big secret? (Sydney Morning Herald, Editorial, 29 September 2005)