Most Govt agencies comply with OIA obligations

  • 08/12/2015

Most of the time government agencies do comply with their obligations under the Official Information Act and most have a genuine desire to do so, the chief ombudsman has found.

The long-awaited report of chief ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem's review of how agencies and ministers deal with OIA requests has been made public on Tuesday.

While she found the OIA has resulted in greater openness and transparency, there are a number of areas of concern.

Dame Beverley's report says government agencies were receiving "mixed messages" from ministers as to their expectations in terms of their compliance with the OIA, as well as the promotion of openness and accountability.

"This has enabled doubt and suspicion to grow amongst the public as to whether their requests for access to official information will be treated appropriately and in accordance with the law by ministers and their agencies," the report said.

"It is important that this is corrected."

Dame Beverley also found evidence that suggested a "small number of ministerial offices" were attempting to limit the scope of OIA requests or change an agency's proposed decision for unwarranted reasons.

"Such attempts were rejected by agency officials and the final decisions made by the agency were compliant with the OIA."

However, Dame Beverley has alerted the prime minister's office about this sort of behaviour occurring.

She said in her report that she has received an assurance that all ministers and their staff are reminded regularly of their obligations under the OIA.

The report highlighted the fact many agencies didn't have basic information on their websites about how the pubic could make requests for official information.

Dame Beverley was also concerned that while agencies had readily accessible policies and procedures in place for how staff are expected to deal with OIA requests, it wasn't the case for ministers' office, with many just relying on the text of the OIA.

The report makes 48 recommendations.

Dame Beverley began her review late last year amid concerns about delays in the release of information to the media and the wider public.