New report shows access to government information growing and future challenges

 

The NSW Information Commissioner, Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) CEO and NSW Open Data Advocate, Ms Elizabeth Tydd, today released the ninth annual Report on the Operation of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) 2018 - 2019 (‘the Report’), which has now been tabled in Parliament.

Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd said, “The value of GIPA Act compliance reporting by agencies lies in the transparency of information and the ability to apply trend insights to highlight, and where necessary address, performance issues.”

Overall release rates increased slightly to 70% an increase from 68% in 2017/18. This is a positive outcome reflecting a return to the 2016/17 release rates.

The Report identified three fundamental changes as now permanent features of government: digital government and data application, increasing partnerships and outsourcing arrangements, and novel models of government that transcend traditional sectoral arrangements.

“These changes have significant impacts upon citizens and importantly their right to access information. Accordingly, there is an increasing need to promote accountability and transparency and to assure Open Government.

“Vigilance is essential to promote transparency and accountability, and robust independent oversight is required to re-evaluate information access rights and safeguard those rights under this new paradigm,” said Ms Tydd.

Key findings

The number of valid applications declined by 1% in 2018/19 with 15,774 valid applications received. 75% of outcomes continue to be by, or on behalf of, members of the public. Consistent with previous years the government sector continued to receive the great majority (12,637 or 80%) of valid applications.

Compliance with Agency Information Guide requirements has steadily increased from 60% in 2016/17 to 73% in 2017/18 and 93% in 2018/19. Disclosure log and contract register compliance also increased.

“There was 100% compliance with the mandatory proactive requirements for the release of Agency Information Guides, policy documents, disclosure log and contracts register by sampled government departments. This is a a commendable outcome.

“In contrast, only 20% (two departments) had a partial list of major assets and acquisitions (an increase from 10% in 2017/18). 30% (three departments) had a partial list of the total number and total value of properties the department disposed of during the previous financial year (an increase from 10% in 2017/18),” said Ms Tydd.

Programs for the release of government information increased to the highest level reported to date at 93%. This is a significant increase from 74% in 2017/18. Also, for the first time two sectors, the university and state-owned corporations sector demonstrated that the review led to a 100% additional release rate.

Overall timeliness has been consistent at 87%. However there has been a downward trend in timeliness since 2015/16 when 93% of applications were decided within time in the government sector.

“The rate of deemed refusals has increased steadily from 3% reported in 2015/16 to 8% in 2018/19. In summary, the impact of a rise in deemed refusals on agencies is duplication of effort. The impact on citizens is to curtail the fundamental right to access information.

The highest release rates in 2018/19 were for applications by private sector business at 76%. This is the highest release rate recorded for any applicant type since 2014/15 and is reflective of a continuing increase in the release rates for private sector businesses.

The total number of reviews was equivalent to 6% of total valid applications received across all sectors in 2018/19. This is a slight increase in the review rate of 5% reported in 2017/18. The review rate will continue to be monitored given the number of applications declined by 1% in 2018/19,” said Ms Tydd.

External review by the Information Commissioner was the most frequently used review pathway accounting for 40% of all reviews. Applications to the Information Commissioner for external review increased by 14% in 2018/19 further confirming that citizens are increasingly using this avenue of review.

“In 2018/19, the IPC continued to apply a strategic, proactive approach to regulation and conducted a number of audits and monitoring of agency compliance. These initiatives provided measurable results and enabled targeted regulatory action to be taken to enhance compliance.

“Overall the response, by agencies to this approach demonstrated a commitment to compliance together with evidence of the effectiveness of this strategic approach to address extant and emerging compliance risks,” Ms Tydd said.

A copy of the Report is now available on the IPC website. A dashboard with individual agency performance data will be published shortly on IPC website.

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

IPC media team on 0435 961 691 or email ccadigital@ipc.nsw.gov.au

About the Report on the Operation of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) 2018 - 2019

The Report is a comprehensive assessment of the operation of the right to information legislation in New South Wales. It promotes greater transparency for the NSW community by examining the performance of over 240 government agencies and providing important guidance to policy makers and agency heads.  The Report is mandated requirement under section 37 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2008 (NSW).

About the Information and Privacy Commission:

The Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC) is an independent statutory authority that administers New South Wales’ legislation dealing with privacy and access to government information.

About the NSW Information Commissioner 

The NSW Information Commissioner’s statutory role includes promoting public awareness and understanding of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act); providing information, advice, assistance and training to agencies and the public; dealing with complaints about agencies; investigating agencies’ systems, policies and practices; and reporting on compliance with the GIPA Act.