30 Years of Freedom of Information in WA
In 2023, the Office of the Information Commissioner ("OIC") celebrates 30 years of the legislative right to access documents of Western Australian State and local government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) (“FOI Act”).
While the FOI Act was passed in 1992 and received royal assent on 15 December 1992, the sections of the FOI Act that created the role of Information Commissioner, established the Office of the Information Commissioner and outlined the right to access government documents did not commence until 1993.
As part of the OIC’s celebrations of 30 years of FOI in WA, the OIC will hold the third FOI in WA Conference on 2 November 2023. For further details about this conference, visit the conference webpage here.
The world's first Freedom of Information legislation
2 December 1776 saw passage in Sweden of the world’s first Freedom of Information legislation - His Majesty's Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press (PDF, 766kb).
The first paragraph of the ordinance considers the ‘great advances that flow to the public from a lawful freedom of writing and of the press’ including:
an unrestricted mutual enlightenment in various useful subjects not only promotes the development and dissemination of sciences and useful crafts but also offers greater opportunities to each of Our loyal subjects to gain improved knowledge and appreciation of a wisely ordered system of government
In 2016, to mark the 250th anniversary of the Swedish legislation, Australian and New Zealand independent statutory officers administering information access legislation jointly issued a media statement, which is available here (PDF, 320kb).
FOI comes to WA
It is interesting to note the parallels with the speech of former Western Australian Minister for Justice, the Hon David Smith OAM, when he introduced the WA FOI Bill in 1991:
Freedom of Information legislation represents a fundamental reform of the relationship between the State and local governments and the communities they serve. It enshrines in legislation rights which are at the very heart of democratic processes.
Divisions 1 and 2 of Part 4 of the FOI Act came into effect 11 June 1993 - establishment of the Information Commissioner and functions of the Information Commissioner. The remaining parts of the FOI Act took effect on 1 November 1993.
The first Information Commissioner, Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy, was appointed on 1 July 1993. The Commissioner wrote in the OIC's 1993/94 Annual Report, "my primary task has been the establishment of the office of the Information Commissioner and its infrastructure to ensure that the right of access can be exercised by the public in a meaningful way".
This report noted that the OIC provided its own information statement - not required under the legislation, but done "to demonstrate my commitment to the principles of openess, accountability and responsibility".
At the time of proclamation, WA was the only jurisdiction with "dual responsibilities of dealing with complaints about decisions made by agencies concerning FOI applications and in undertaking a public education role to ensure that both agencies and the public are aware of their respective responsibilities and rights under the Act".
For more history from our Annual Reports, see our Stories from OIC Annual Reports webpage.
Additionally, extracts on the FOI Act from Hansard can be found here, and information on the history of the OIC website can be found here.
Celebration of 30 years of The OIC - 26 July 2023
To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, the OIC held a morning tea for key dignitaries, OIC staff, and agency FOI coordinators on 26 July 2023. The Western Australian Attorney General, The Hon. John Quigley LLB JP MLA, addressed the event. This was followed by a presentation from Catherine Fletcher, Information Commissioner.
Catherine Fletcher, Information Commissioner, speaking at the OIC’s 30-year celebration
In a media statement about this anniversary, the Information Commissioner said:
The right to access information under the FOI Act is integral to open, accountable and responsible government. I acknowledge the important work of FOI practitioners within agencies through the last 30 years who have worked to ensure that community members obtain appropriate access to government documents. This plays an important role in helping to achieve the legislative objects of the FOI Act: to enable greater public participation in our democracy and to make government more accountable to the people.
The full media statement about our 30-year celebrations can be found here on our media page.
The OIC's 30-year celebration cake and cupcakes