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Information Technology Central to New Public Sector Information Access Initiatives

by Kristen Hammond •
Free resource

The Federal Government has continued its commitment to Open Government with two guest posts on the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) blog announcing the logistics of two key public sector information access initiatives.

Posted on the 31 January and 1 February 2011 respectively, the guest posts invite comment on the Freedom of Information Publication Scheme (IPS) and the Draft Public Sector Information Licensing Guidelines. Both projects involve increasing accessibility to agency information in response to the Gillard Government’s Declaration of Open Government in July 2010 and the recommendations of the Gov 2.0 taskforce.

The IPS, which will come into force 1 May 2011, requires agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (‘FOI Act’) to publish a broad range of information on their websites. The information, which should be available for inspection and purchase, may include agency plans, specified categories of information and any other data the agency is willing to proactively publish.

In a guest post on the AGIMO blog by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), the statutory office established to implement the IPS, OAIC invited comment on their Issues Paper ‘Towards an Australian Government Information Management Policy’.

According to the Paper, the increased recognition of the importance of public access to government information has led to the FOI Act being amended to ‘promote a pro-disclosure culture across government and build a stronger foundation for more openness in government’.

The Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010, which was strongly influenced by key government reports such as Gov 2.0, Reinecke and Gershon, introduced the new IPS which would:

  • Open public sector information to greater use and reuse outside government;
  • Enhance participation in government through the use of Web 2.0 tools;
  • Encourage a coordinated approach to government information policy; and
  • Clarify the roles of key government information management agencies.

With this framework in mind, OAIC developed ten draft principles on open sector information:

1)    Open access to information is the default position – information should be easily discoverable, understandable, freely reusable and proactively disclosed by agencies;

2)    Effective information governance is vital, with management vested in a ‘senior executive information champion’, such as a CIO within the agency;

3)    Robust information asset management frameworks should be in place;

4)    Information should be findable;

5)    Decision making processes should be sound;

6)    Complaints processes should be transparent;

7)    Information should be presented in open and accessible online formats;

8)    Access should be charged appropriately;

9)    Rights for reuse should be clear; and

10) The community should be engaged in the process.  

The release of the Draft Principles was followed the next day by an invitation for comment on the Attorney-General’s Draft Public Sector Information Licensing Guidelines, which deal primarily with the legal implications of the use and re-use of government information.

According to the AGIMO blog post, the government has agreed to a default position in which public sector information (PSI) is released free of charge under a Creative Commons ‘By’ Licence. The new Creative Commons system will allow the copyright owners (in this case, the government agency) to use a generic licence to allow certain use and reuse of its materials.

A wide range of PSI will be affected by the new position, including text and data-based publications like government reports, budget papers, explanatory memorandum, text-based information on government websites, statistics, audio visual materials and more. However, material which is confidential, commercially sensitive or relevant to national security will be exempted.

The movement towards Open Government has been a central element of the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government’s agenda since 2009, with innovative use of information technology, particularly the internet, viewed as crucial to realising a more open and transparent form of government.

A key development in the trend has been the implementation of the website, which was established as a repository for Federal agency datasets in response to recommendation six of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report. The website, which hosts over 60 datasets, currently licenses its information under a Creative Commons system.

The IPS and PSI Licensing Guidelines are open for comment on the AGIMO blog until 1 March and 21 February respectively. 

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