FOI spike after secrecy shift
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has released its annual report, which reveals a big spike in Freedom of Information requests in response to the cone of silence around immigration matters.
Ministers’ offices and the federal bureaucracy at large have been bombarded with 35,550 Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) in the last year.
One agency - the Department of Immigration and Border Protection – was the target of more than half.
The total number of FOI requests is up 25 per cent from last year, most of which comes from by the dramatic spike in applications lodged with Immigration.
Immigration was the target of 18,851 FOI applications, an increase of almost 7000, or 64 per cent.
With an average of of 51 requests a day, the agency received more than four times the FOIs of the agency with the next highest number - the Department of Human Services (4501), and five times the amount sent to the Department of Veterans' Affairs (3436).
The Information Commissioner says it was largely because of the lifting of visa application bars.
Possibly prepared for the influx, the Immigration Department emerged as one of the most effective in dealing with the request. The department missed the 90-day deadline for dealing with requests just a dozen times.
Full access to information was granted for about 60 per cent of requests, partial access was given in 35 per cent of requests, while 5 per cent were refused entirely.
A majority of the requests across the three top agencies were from members of the public looking to access information on themselves.
The surge was revealed after Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd labelled the FOI laws “pernicious”.
Mr Lloyd has said that he thinks the laws are more powerful than intended, and could to easily be used to pursue information for news issues of the day.
Acting Australian Information Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim says it has been a rough year for the agency, which was about to be scrapped at the start of 2015, and spent six months in limbo waiting on the passing of a bill to keep it alive.
“The 2014-15 financial year had the potential to be [the] OAIC's least effective,” he wrote.
“It would have been natural for those working at the OAIC to have focused on their personal futures and for productivity to have dropped.
“However, this was not the case.
“The significant output of the OAIC continued, providing an amazing demonstration of the commitment of its people to uphold the best values of the Australian Public Service and meet the needs of the Australian public.
“During this period, the OAIC also handled some 16,166 privacy inquiries, received 2841 privacy complaints and closed 1976, as well as handling 110 voluntary data breach notifications.”
The OAIC also saw its first commissioner-initiated investigation, and for the first time accepted an enforceable undertaking following the 2014 reforms to the Privacy Act.
“The OAIC continued to work with international privacy and data protection regulators to build collaborative relationships, keep abreast of emerging international privacy protection issues and enhance global regulatory co-operation,” the report states.