Stories from 30 years of OIC Annual Reports
Annual reports are a great source of information about freedom of information in Western Australia over the last 30 years.
Click on a year below to learn about key events in the history of the OIC and of FOI in WA.
The first Information Commissioner, Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy, was appointed on 1 July 1993. The Commissioner wrote, "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."
The OIC provides its own information statement - not required under the legislation, but done "to demonstrate my commitment to the principles of openess, accountability and responsibility".
Divisions 1 and 2 of Part 4 of the FOI Act came into effect on 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.
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."
In the first full year of operation of the FOI Act, 3323 access applications were lodged. Overall, 75% of access applicants were granted full access of the documents they requested, 17% received edited copies of documents, and 7% were refused access.
The OIC introduces preliminary conferences, held wherever possible at the outset of dealing with a complaint.
The OIC moves to its new office at Exchange Plaza.
The OIC makes a number of recommendations on the FOI Act, including that it be amended to provide that internal review is not a prerequisite for external review and to give the Information Commissioner a wider discretion to access complaints without internal review occurring.
The OIC launches its first website, allowing electronic access to all office publications, legislation and other details of OIC services, including frequently asked questions on the FOI process.
First OIC Annual Report published on the OIC website.
New publications: A comprehensive brochure, “Guidelines for using FOI in Western Australia”, was published. The brochure incorporated three previous OIC brochures into one and is a complete guide on FOI process to be followed. The brochure was also available on the website and could be downloaded if required.
Guides to assist in the understanding and application of some of the most commonly used exemption clauses were also published during the year. The guides dealt with: Clause 4(2) and Clause 4(3), Commercial or business information; Clause 6, Deliberative processes; Clause 7, Legal professional privilege; and Clause 8, Confidential communications.
WA’s first Information Commissioner, Ms Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy, retired on 1 October 2003. Ms Keighley-Gerardy was appointed as WA’s inaugural Information Commissioner on 1 July 1993.
Daryl Wookey was appointed Acting Information Commissioner in November 2003.
The OIC moved to collocated premises with the Ombudsman, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Office of Health Review and the Commissioner for Public Sector Standards.
From 1 July, the OIC began to include summaries of conciliated cases on its website.
Applications to agencies have been steadily increasing, from 3,323 in 1994/95 to 10,416 in 2006/07. This is an increase of approximately 213% in 12 years.
John Lightowlers appointed Acting Information Commissioner in November 2007
The OIC conducted a review of Department of Health FOI processes, implementing a recommendation made in Parliament by the Corruption and Crime Commission in January 2008.
Sven Bluemmel appointed Information Commissioner
A number of other Australian jurisdictions undertook significant reforms of their freedom of information legislation. These reforms have generally adopted a similar external review model to Western Australia — namely, an independent commissioner who can make legally binding decisions about FOI disputes. This new common approach to FOI administration is providing greater opportunities for cooperation between information commissioners in Australian jurisdictions, which will enhance the administration of the Act in Western Australia.
The OIC conducted an independent review into the administration of freedom of information in Western Australia. A report was tabled in Parliament on 8 September 2010 and provides important insights into how effectively the FOI Act is being administered. The review also identified areas where agencies require more support and training.
The OIC hosted the first meeting of the Association of Information Access Commissioners (AIAC) in April 2011. The objects of the association include sharing of knowledge and resources between Commissioners within the region, as well as cooperating in areas such as proactive disclosure of government information and general open government initiatives. The association also aims to make best practice amongst its members to achieve the objectives set out in their respective legislation.
OIC relocated its offices to Albert Facey House, along with the Ombudsman WA, the Office of the Auditor General and other agencies. Being co-located with other integrity agencies allows for the efficient sharing of high quality resources, including training and meeting facilities.
The first time that the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment arising out of a decision made under the FOI Act. In Apache Northwest Pty Ltd v Department of Mines and Petroleum  WASCA 167, the Court ultimately upheld a decision to require the disclosure of documents relating to facilities on Varanus Island, which was the site of a gas pipeline explosion in 2008. The Court also provided significant guidance on the interpretation of exemptions under the Act.
The Information Commissioner determined that the private sector provider of a public health facility was not an agency under the FOI Act in Re Pisano and Health Solutions (WA) Pty Ltd trading as Peel Health Campus  WAICmr 24.
OIC Strategic Goals for 2013-2016 published - the OIC developed a strategic plan to assist the development and refinement of its processes, and decision-making on resource allocation, to achieve the objects of the FOI Act. The four strategic goals were to:
- provide a fair, independent and timely external review service
- enhance public awareness of rights to government information
- foster improvement in agency practice and
- build the capacity of our people.
OIC launches new FOI Newsletter in May 2015 – The newsletter aims to provide brief and clear information about freedom of information. While the information contained in the newsletter is primarily targeted towards agency staff, it includes information that may be of interest to members for the public. The following financial year, six editions were published. In 2019, the newsletter moved to being a quarterly publication.
New OIC website launched in September 2015 - organised to allow members of the public and agencies to obtain clear information about freedom of information that is relevant to them. The site included drop-down menus with information according to its relevance to members of the public and officers of agencies respectively. Detailed publications available include guides to certain exemptions under the FOI Act, the FOI Coordinators Manual and OIC Annual Reports.
The Agency FOI Coordinators Reference Group was formed in August 2015. The group meets quarterly and currently consists of officers from ten agencies that are representative agencies subject to the FOI Act. The terms of reference for the group are available on our website here (PDF, 83.9KB). Meetings provide an opportunity to obtain feedback on current issues facing agencies in respect to freedom of information and about continuing and proposed advice and awareness activities of the OIC.
On 7 December 2016, the Australian Government announced the finalisation of Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan. The Plan contains 15 commitments focused on: transparency and accountability in business; open data and digital transformation; access to government information; integrity in the public sector; and public participation and engagement.
First FOI in WA Conference - 269 officers from the State and local government sectors attended the all-day conference held on 10 August 2017 at Fiona Stanley Hospital. The conference included a keynote presentation from John McMillan and panel discussion involving local and interstate leaders in the FOI and records management areas, and some concurrent sessions on select FOI issues.
OIC had two Acting Information Commissioners, Sue Lloyd (September 2017 to April 2018) and Lisa Ward (April to July 2018). Catherine Fletcher was appointed as Acting Information Commissioner from July 2018 (she was subsequently appointed substantively to the position in July 2019.
Catherine Fletcher appointed Information Commissioner in July 2019 for a five-year term.
First published decision concerning Clause 15 of the Schedule 1 to the FOI Act - Re Bennett & Philp Pty Ltd and Gold Corporation  WAICmr 1.
Electronic file transfer - The OIC introduced a new procedure allowing and requiring agencies to produce documents electronically, using a secure file sharing platform.
Second FOI in WA Conference – Building Trust was held on 21 November 2019 at Fiona Stanley Hospital and attended by over 300 FOI practitioners and a number of agency leaders. The conference included a keynote address from Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallop AC, a panel discussion about the role and challenges of FOI and open government, and concurrent sessions on select information access and FOI issues.
OIC became a member of the International Conference of Information Commissioners (the ICIC). The ICIC is constituted by Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen from across the globe, who meet to discuss issues related to the protection and promotion of the right to public information for the benefit of citizens. The Information Commissioners of Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are also members of the ICIC.
OIC 2019/20 annual report selected for the Gold award for agencies with under 100FTEs at the Lonnie Awards. The Lonnie Awards – organised and hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia – provides an independent review of WA State government annual reports each year. The purpose of the awards is to encourage excellence in annual reporting, which is an important tool in accountability and transparency.
OIC launched online training – FOI Fundamentals Series - In early 2021, the OIC developed an online course that agency staff can access at any time, at their own pace. The series consists of eight online modules and is aimed at State and local government officers dealing with FOI in their agency. The series includes the material that was covered in the face-to-face training offered by the FOI Coordinator’s Workshop.
The Information Commissioner received 194 applications for external review – a 20.5% increase from the previous year. The number of external reviews received by the Commissioner in the last 10 years has grown by 50.4% (from 129 in 2012/13 to 194 in 2021/22).
As part of International Access to Information Day celebrations, the Information Commissioner joined with Commissioners from other jurisdictions to produce a Joint Statement of Principles to support proactive disclosure of government-held information.
The OIC published a draft new publication – Open by Design – FOI and Information Release in WA. Agencies and other readers were invited to provide feedback. The finalised guide was published in September 2023.
More on the history of FOI in WA