FoI in Australia: New South Wales appoints Information Commissioner

The New South Wales (NSW) Government will appoint an independent Information Commissioner and overhaul freedom of information laws, under new bills presented to the State Parliament late yesterday.

Premier Nathan Rees said the proposed legislation offered a "fresh start" after 20 years of the old regime, and would shift the focus towards proactive disclosure of information held by government agencies.

"The legislation requires that certain information, including policy documents and private sector contract registers, must be published," he said. "In addition, agencies will be authorised to release other information, unless it is sensitive personal information or there is some other overriding public interest why it cannot be disclosed.

"There is a significant amount of information that can and should be released without the need for a formal application."

Although the Government has decided to locate the new ICO separate from the Ombudsman's office, Mr Rees said the Privacy Commissioner would in future be brought into the ICO.

"The two roles will remain functionally independent within a combined office; it makes sense to have a single body overseeing the key issues relating to government information - privacy and public access," he said.

Mr Rees said the Information Commissioner would have oversight of the new arrangements, with "robust investigative powers, including the inquiry powers of a royal commission".

Funding of at least $3 million has been allocated for the information commissioner's office in 2009-10, and a "guaranteed minimum" of $4 million a year would be provided thereafter.

NSW Govt to appoint Information Commissioner (The Australian, 18 June 2009)