Feedback from Stage 1 of the consultation has been integrated into the draft below for Stage 2. Please feel free to add to or modify content on this page that helps build a picture of the history of open government in Australia. A Background section will be included in the National Action Plan.

OPEN REPORTING, BUDGETS AND PARLIAMENTARY PROCESSES

Australia has a long history of public sector and parliamentary open reporting. All government entities are required to produce and publicly publish their annual reports, budgets, contracts and a variety of other reporting requirements for the purposes of oversight and transparency. The recent independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation gives a good outline of public sector reporting in the Australian Government. From a Parliamentary perspective, Australia has also had a good track record, with a high level of transparency and reporting across all Parliamentary Business including federal budgets, bills and legislation, transcripts from all Parliamentary business, tabled documents, the work of Parliamentary Committees and much more.

AUSTRALIA’S ORIGINAL DECLARATION OF OPEN GOVERNMENT

In 2009, the Gov.0 Taskforce was established to advise the Government on the structural barriers and enabling policies for greater information disclosure, digital innovation and online engagement. This included the division of responsibilities for, and overall coordination of, these issues within government. In response, the Government made the Declaration of Open Government and accepted in full the recommendations in the Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration report, both of which promoted greater participation in Australia’s democracy, policy and legislative reform, commitments to open government practices, and greater release of public sector information.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION & PRIVACY REFORMS

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) was established in 2010 under the new Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010. Over the course of the next four years the Freedom of Information Act 1982 was updated making it easier to request information and seek review of FOI decisions. Parliament enacted reforms with the passage of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 (Cth) and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (AIC Act).

Other key statutory roles included hearing complaints about the handling of FOI applications (instead of the Ombudsman), monitoring the system, and providing guidelines, to agencies and providing independent advice to Government.

The Information Publication Scheme was (IPS) which implemented directing agencies to take proactive steps to release standard government information in a consistent way reflecting the pro-disclosure goals of the FOI Act. In 2014 the Australian Privacy Principles (APP) were added to Schedule 1 of the Privacy Act 1988. The APPs regulate the handling of personal information by Australian government and some private sector organisations.

Since May 2014 the Australian Government decided to abolish the OAIC. As of December 2014 the required legislation to formally enact this change has not yet passed the Australian Parliament.

WHISTLE BLOWER PROTECTIONS

Whistle-blower protections in Australia was significantly improved by new legislation passed in 2013, the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Its purpose was to provide a scheme for the investigation of alleged wrong doing in the Commonwealth public sector and provide protective mechanisms for current or former officials who make public interest disclosures under the regime (ref Parliamentary Library

OPEN DATA

Data.gov.au was established in 2010 to enable the centralisation and distribution of open data and access to government data APIs. The website was allocated resourcing to initiate whole of government direction and curation of data. In 2012, data.gov.au was allocated resources to strengthen its role as an essential element in Australia’s open government strategy. The number of datasets available on the website has grown from 500 to over 7,500, and is now working in alignment with state and territory and local governments via the Cross Jurisdictional Open Data Working Group to improve open data offerings nationwide.

In December 2015 the Australian Government announced that high value national spatial datasets would be made publicly available as open data https://blog.data.gov.au/news-media/blog/geocoded-national-address-data-be-made-openly-available

ADOPTION OF CREATIVE COMMONS

In order to accommodate greater access to government information and bring consistency in licensing arrangements, the public service adapted Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. The adaption of the licence enabled all government content with the exception of Commonwealth Coat of Arms and unless specifically stated elsewhere.

NATIONAL COMMISSION OF AUDIT

The National Commission of Audit’s (2014) focus on improving the management of public resources has enabled progressive whole of government changes in a short time. The government has been proactive in addressing the recommendations within the 2014/15 budget and in immediate organisational changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public resource management.
As part of the structural reforms following the Audit, we have seen amalgamations of key government functions including the creation of the Data Policy Branch within the Department of Communications. This branch is now positioned to provide overall data policy direction on whole of government initiatives including the development and implementation of the Australian Government Open Data policy.
The Audit also recommended further centralisation, sharing, and reuse of government resources with a focus on gaining from the opportunities innovation in technology can provide.

CHANGES IN CULTURE

Open government practices and advances have a dramatic impact on the federal and state and territory public services. The Australian Public Service is learning to value the contribution which more transparent, interactive, and open government practices can offer. It is benefiting from being a workforce which is looking for improvements based on our public needs – not just to solve problems when they arise, it is engaging with the public partnerships to actively encourage private enterprise to provide public services, and it is leveraging the skills and knowledge of the public to improve how it manages its services, manages its data, implements new processes. These changes in culture have been supported by a number of reports in recent years:
Civil Society Engagement
  • Groups of public servants, interested citizens and professionals working to advance the practice of Open Government and Gov 2.0 in Australia have formed to constructively support the development of Open Government across Australia. Many of these events have occurred after hours and on weekends with attendees doing so out of interest, in their own time. There have been a significant number of Hackathons, GovCamps (and BarCamps) to advance the practice and goals of Open Government and encourage the use of open data in Australia.
  • The Australia Government have hosted and sponsored a number of these events to engage citizens and business. In addition to these events they have also hosted events to share Open Government methods and tools with others across Government – which have been open to public participation.
  • Even when these events were not ‘hosted’ or sponsored by Government, they have been fairly well attended by public servants either as interested citizens, sometimes endorsed by their managers and on Government / employer time.
  • In addition to these events, APS staffers (such as Pia Waugh) have been increasingly accessible to, and promoted the initiatives of, others advancing Open Gov both inside and from outside of Government (at all levels) across Australia (and with other Countries).
  • The above has helped maintained the momentum, interest and practice of Open Government in Australia.

THE ROLE OF INFORMATION COMMISSIONERS IN OPEN GOVERNMENT

The role of Information Commissioners across Australia is to encourage public sector agencies to champion open government and to promote the release of information to stakeholders and the community. All government activity originates in and is sustained by information. Increasing access to government information is fundamental to open, democratic government engagement with citizens and accountability. State and Territory Information Commissioners play a central role in facilitating improved information management and release to bolster transparency.

INFORMATION ACCESS LAWS

Information access and Freedom of Information (FOI) laws across Australian jurisdictions are supportive of open government. The objects of each legislative regime demonstrate a commitment to open access of government-held information, transparency and accountability based on democratic principles, including to encourage community participation in decision-making. The information access regimes have, over the past few years, moved towards supporting and encouraging the proactive disclosure of information by public sector agencies to citizens and the community.

  • Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) (GIPA Act): the GIPA Act commenced operation on 24 September 2010. In the second reading speech about the GIPA Bill, the then Premier Mr Nathan Rees stated that members of the public should be able to have access to the widest possible range of information to give them confidence in Government decision-making. He also stated that the GIPA Bill shifted the focus toward proactive disclosure. The GIPA Act is founded on a commitment to maintain and advance a system of responsible and representative democratic Government that is open, accountable, fair and effective. The object of this Act is to open government information to the public by (a) authorising and encouraging the proactive public release of government information by agencies, and (b) giving members of the public an enforceable right to access government information, and (c) providing that access to government information is restricted only when there is an overriding public interest against disclosure. The GIPA Act promotes the proactive disclosure of information through four information release and access pathways – mandatory proactive release of information; authorised proactive release; informal access; formal access.
  • Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Victoria) (FOI Act): The FOI Act commenced on 5 July 1983 and 5 July 1984. The object of this Act is to extend as far as possible the right of the community to access information in the possession of the Government of Victoria and other bodies constituted under the law of Victoria for certain public purposes by (a) making available to the public information about the operations of agencies and, in particular, ensuring that rules and practices affecting members of the public in their dealings with agencies are readily available to persons affected by those rules and practices; and (b) creating a general right of access to information in documentary form in the possession of Ministers and agencies limited only by exceptions and exemptions necessary for the protection of essential public interests and the private and business affairs of persons in respect of whom information is collected and held by agencies. Part II of the Act requires Ministers and agencies to annually publish a range of documents including policies and procedures affecting the public, categories of documents held, certain reports, as well as information about how members of the public may inspect and purchase documents.
  • Right to Information Act 2009 (Queensland) (RTI Act): The RTI Act commenced on 1 July 2009. The primary object of the RTI Act is to give a right of access to information in the government’s possession or under the government’s control unless, on balance, it is contrary to the public interest to give the access. Information may be accessed other than by a formal application under this Act, for example, the Act requires that significant and appropriate information held by agencies be made publicly available through publication schemes, preferably online. The RTI Act aims to make more information available, provide equal access to information across all sectors of the community, and provide appropriate protection for individuals’ privacy. Under the RTI Act, information is released administratively as a matter of course, unless there is a good reason not to, with formal access applications being used as a last resort.
  • Freedom of Information Act 1991 (South Australia) (FOI Act): the FOI Act commenced operation on 1 January 1992. In his explanatory speech on the Bill, the then Attorney-General, the Hon Chris Sumner MLC, talked of the three major premises on which the Bill was based: (1) the individual has a right to know what information is contained in Government records about him or herself; (2) a Government that is open to public scrutiny is more accountable to the people who select it; (3) where people are informed about Government policies, they are more likely to become involved in policy making and in Government itself. The objects of the Act are to promote openness in government and accountability of Ministers of the Crown and other government agencies and thereby to enhance respect for the law and further the good government of the State; and to facilitate more effective participation by members of the public in the processes involved in the making and administration of laws and policies. The FOI Act gives every member of the public a right to:
    • access documents which are held by state government departments, statutory authorities, councils, public hospitals and universities, subject to certain exceptions in the Act; and
    • have records which concern their personal affairs amended, if those records are incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland have Information Commissioners who are independent statutory office holders.

  • NSW: The Information Commissioner oversights the operation of the GIPA Act. The Information Commissioner’s functions include to promote agencies’ understanding and practical application of the Act; measure, monitor and report on agency compliance; report on the operation of the GIPA Act to Parliament; and review decisions of agencies on request under the GIPA Act.
  • Victoria: the FOI Commissioner’s functions and powers include to promote understanding and acceptance by agencies of the Act and its object; to conduct reviews of decisions by agencies on requests under the Act; to receive and handle complaints; to monitor compliance by agencies with those professional standards; to provide advice, education and guidance to agencies in relation to compliance with any professional standards; to provide advice, education and guidance to agencies and the public; to report on the operation of the Act; to provide advice to the Minister on the operation and administration of the Act. In carrying out these functions the office the FOI Commissioner aims to ensure there is a fair and transparent flow of government held information, and to educate Victorians and the agencies that work on their behalf to understand their rights and responsibilities to one another.
  • Queensland: the Office of the Information Commissioner’s role includes independently review decisions made by Queensland Ministers and public sector agencies about access to or amendment of, documents; to mediate privacy complaints; promote information rights and responsibilities; and foster improvements in the quality of right to information privacy practices. The Information Commissioner is supported by two other statutory office holders appointed by the Governor-in-Council – the Right to Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner.
  • South Australia does not have Information Commissioners and instead, relies on the Ombudsman to provide a complaint or review function, and to champion open and transparent government. State Records assists the Minister responsible for administrating the FOI Act. The Ombudsman is the review authority under the FOI Act for external reviews of agencies’ decisions under the FOI Act (including in relation to access, amendment of personal records, and fees and charges).

Feedback from: Tim Smith (ART), James Mackay, Information Commissioners (NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia), Amelia Loye



The Accountability Round Table has a identified a number of matters that it believes will add and hopefully complete the survey made in the Background Material document presently on the wikispace.
We have attempted to explain and develop them in the attached document
.
As with the Vision Statement, we have attempted to bring together in the one document the existing material and that in the attached.
ART wishes to put them on the table as part of the Consultation Process.
Feedback from: Tim Smith (ART)