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The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of entities’ implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
To form a conclusion against the audit objective, the ANAO adopted the following high level criteria:
- the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner effectively and efficiently provides guidance and assistance to entities and monitors compliance with the FOI Act;
- selected entities effectively and efficiently process FOI document access applications; and
- selected entities release relevant information under the Information Publication Scheme.
The administration of FOI applications in the three selected entities examined was generally effective. While the proportion of applications where access is refused has remained relatively stable at around 10 per cent, the number of exemptions from release being claimed by all entities across the Commonwealth has increased by 68.4 per cent over the last five years1, with the use of two particular exemptions having increased by more than 300 per cent and almost 250 per cent respectively.
OAIC, the FOI regulator, does not have an articulated statement of its regulatory approach and has undertaken limited regulatory activity since 2012.
OAIC publishes a wide range of useful guidance for entities and FOI applicants.
In 2015–16, OAIC reported that it had met its performance target for merit review of entity decisions for the first time. The ANAO noted that the time required to conduct a merit review varies substantially, with the elapsed time for decisions reported by OAIC in 2015–16 ranging from 81 to 1228 days (average of 372 days).
There is very limited quality assurance or verification of the reliability of FOI data reported to OAIC by entities.
Based on the targeted testing of FOI applications made to AGD, DSS and DVA, those agencies generally appear to be providing appropriate assistance to applicants. The selected entities’ ability to search for documents could be improved if they had the capability to electronically search the content of all electronic documents.
The number of exemptions claimed by entities has increased by 68.4 per cent over the last five years. The use of two exemptions in particular has increased substantially.
Across all entities:
- 88 per cent of applications were processed within the required 30 day period;
- the proportion of applications refused has remained fairly constant at about 10 per cent over the last five years;
- the number of exemptions being claimed is increasing, especially in relation to two of the ‘top ten’ exemptions; and
- the number of applications for internal review is trending upwards.
None of the three selected entities fully complied with the FOI Act requirement to publish specific required information as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS).
None of the three selected entities, nor OAIC, met the FOI Act requirement to review the operation of the IPS in their entity by May 1 2016.
The three selected entities updated their disclosure logs as required, noting that four of 15 required updates were late.