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Australia: Dept of Immigration Faces FOI Scrutiny
Source: futuregov.asia
Source Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Focus: Information Access, Government Portal, Citizens’ Service Delivery, E-Government
Country: Australia
Created: Oct 09, 2012

A just-released report by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has warned that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has not fully complied with Freedom of Information (FOI) guidelines and requests for information.

This OAIC report highlights delays within DIAC in responding to long-standing information requests, especially those of a complex nature that come under Australian Freedom-of-Information (FOI) guidelines.

These delays run counter to Australia’s FOI laws and corporate governance arrangements, according to the Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan.

“Timely release of information will promote the democratic objective of promoting public scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activity,” noted Professor McMillan.

He added that the department continued to receive a higher volume of FOI requests compared to any other Australian government agency. “Substantial change is required in how DIAC handles complex and sensitive FOI requests.”

In response to this latest report, Martin Bowles Acting Secretary for DIAC, said the department “has been making changes over time.”

He noted that the department will help, where needed, to improve compliance with Australia’s FOI laws and guidelines.

A department-wide review will focus on a greater profile for FOI, while highlighting a “whole-of-department responsibility” in responding to information requests.

Plans are underway to minimise future delays, while increasing staff awareness about their obligations, especially for complex FOI requests, compared with those involving access to personal information.

The OAIC report was initiated following concerns the department had failed “to comply with statutory time-frames” involving response-times.

Red flags were raised about an “inefficient management of complex and sensitive FOI requests.” Other issues involved inadequate communication with applicants, including delays in processing their requests.

In 2010–11, DIAC received 8057 document requests under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act. This represented the largest number of such requests received by any Australian government agency.
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