A significant reform of Australian administrative law with a focus on pro-disclosure of information by government agencies has been foreshadowed by the appointment an Information Commissioner Designate to lead the Office of the Information Commissioner.
The Information Commissioner Designate, Professor John McMillan, is taking leave from his role as Commonwealth Ombudsman to establish the Office which will be an independent agency with oversight of both freedom of information and privacy matters.
At the heart of the reforms is the recognition that information held by the Government is a national resource and so should be managed for public purposes. “The Parliament also intends that functions and powers given by this Act are to be performed and exercised, as far as possible, to facilitate and promote public access to information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost,” said Professor McMillan.
Professor McMillan will be responsible for ensuring the Office of the Information Commissioner is fully operational as soon as practical after the passage of legislation. He will have a significant role in implementing the Government’s information policy reforms and in promoting and leading a pro-disclosure culture across government.
The ICT implications of these reforms will be wide and varied, and will range from Web 2.0 initiatives through to effective content management systems (finally!) being adopted by agencies to make their unstructured content discoverable, searchable and downloadable by the public.
“The combination of privacy and freedom of information in a new office headed by three commissioners will transform information management in Australian government,” Professor McMillan said.
The Government’s FOI reform bills are currently before Parliament. The objective of the reforms is to give the Australian community access to information held by the Government of the Commonwealth, by:
(a) Requiring agencies to publish the information; and
(b) Providing a right of access to documents.
According to the Exposure Draft of the ‘Bill for an Act to amend the law relating to access to information, and for related purposes’, the reforms are intended to increase public participation in Government processes so that there is better-informed decision-making and increased scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government’s activities.