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FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION MANAGEMENT bRANCh
Defence steps up to meet FOI reforms
By Michael Weaver
Backed by the recently-established Freedom of
Information and Information Management Branch,
Defence has already made significant steps to
meet its obligations to disclose information to the
As well as meeting its current obligations, the
branch has been preparing Defence for the
introduction of the new FOI reform initiatives.
The first stage has already been completed with
the introduction of the Freedom of Information
(Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other
Measures) Act 2009 which commenced in October
2009, meaning Defence no longer has the ability to
claim conclusive certificates over documents.
The second stage of the reform is the overhaul
of the FOI Act. The Freedom of Information
Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 was introduced into
Parliament in November last year. It is expected to
be enacted on 1 July 2010.
Assistant Secretary Freedom of Information and
Information Management, Mr Tony Corcoran said
“The Government-mandated scheme will have
a significant impact on Defence record-keeping,
including electronic records, especially email.
“This will mean a major cultural change to
organising and managing Defence information.
The magnitude of the change cannot be over-
Minister for Defence Senator John Faulkner
highlighted the Government’s impending culture
of transparency when he addressed a Freedom of
Speech Conference in March last year.
“There is a growing acceptance that the right of
the people to know whether a Government’s deeds
What is Defence doing?
Specific measures adopted since June 2009 to ensure that Defence meets its
obligations under the FOI Act include:
› creating a new Branch responsible for FOI and related functions including
records management and archives administration in June 2009. This has
increased the profile of FOI in Defence
› creating cultural change through improved communication, visibility and
accountability for FOI requests
› providing FOI training for decision makers, and
› closer liaison with action areas to ensure that requests are processed
efficiently to the required deadlines.
Time is information
Average Federal Government agency response times for requests completed
within the 30-day statutory deadline increased from 68 per cent in 2007-08 to
83 per cent in 2008-09. In contrast, Defence only met the deadline in 38 per
cent of responses for 2007-08 and that decreased to 15 per cent in 2008-09.
› Defence has improved response times significantly in the last nine months
– from 33 overdue requests in June 2009 (including 21 over 90 days) to zero
› Due to a significant backlog inherited from 2008-09, including some
requests two or more years old, the compliance rate (30-calendar-day
response time) for 2009-10 is currently sitting at 74 per cent
› The completion rate in meeting the statutory deadline on requests made
since 1 July 2009 is currently at 92 per cent
› Defence has completed 205 requests this financial year, including 52 from
The Government’s key objectives for the new
legislation are to:
› give the Australian community access to information held by the
› increase public participation in Government processes, with a view to
promoting better-informed decision making
› increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government’s
› increase recognition that information held by the Government is to be
managed for public purposes, and is a national resource, and
› ensure that the powers and functions of the Act will facilitate and promote
public access to information promptly, and at the lowest reasonable cost.
“Those of you handling or advising on FOI applications
have a vital role to play in ensuring that changes in FOI law
are carried through to changes in FOI practice. We will be
relying on you to ensure that these reforms actually deliver
more open and accountable government.”
- Minister for Defence Senator John Faulkner
match its words, to know what information the
Government holds about them and to know the
information that underlies debate and informs
decision-making is fundamental to democracy.”
“The FOI Act has been fundamentally unchanged
for 27 years. Reforming it is neither simple, nor
easy, but it is a task this Government is committed
to. “Yes, FOI is burdensome and it comes at
considerable cost. It involves agency time. But
for this Government it remains a key part of our
commitment to more public processes,” Minister
for Defence Senator John Faulkner said.
The reforms also demand greater openness and
timeliness, with penalties being enforced for non-
Defence currently has no overdue FOI requests
and has been compliant with the FOI legislation
for the first time since the Act was introduced in
Departments and agencies will be required to
publish a wide range of information with the
introduction of an Information Publication Scheme.
This will include the provision to the public of
documents released under the FOI Act.
Currently Defence is looking at the technical
difficulties and the cultural barriers that need to
be addressed, as well as implementing policies
to encourage pro-disclosure and more online
engagement with the public. Defence will have 6
months to implement the scheme after the reforms
In advance of the newly-mandated scheme, the
FOI Directorate will make documents which have
been released under the Act available to the public
through an online application process.
While Defence already makes available certain
documents under Section 9 of the FOI Act, the
move to pro-disclosure means this list will need to
be more comprehensive. All Groups and Services
will need to assist in making these documents
more readily available.
Of course, not all documents can be released under
the Act. There will always be some documents,
including classified documents, for which
disclosure is not in the public interest and which
should be exempt under the Act.
Tony Corcoran says a significant effort over
several years will need to be made by Defence
to embed an organisational culture in which
Defence members, both civilian and military, feel
comfortable in releasing government information
as a matter of course, unless it is subject to
national security classification.
Did You Know?
› Defence gets around 200 FOI
requests a year.
› These roughly comprise:
› one-third simple, personal
› one-third complex personal
requests (eg redress or
conduct) and business requests
(eg dissatisfied tenderers), and
› one-third from journalists and
› It cost $1.6M to administer FOI
“It must be clear to decision makers that the starting point for considering FOI requests should
be a presumption in favour of giving access to documents,”
- M inister for Defence Senator John Faulkner
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