Open Government Partnership and National Action Plan
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes on its website that:
People are demanding transparency, accountability, access to information and competent service delivery from their governments. They also expect policies and services to be tailored to their needs and address their concerns.
Open government - the opening up of government processes, proceedings, documents and data for public scrutiny and involvement - is now considered as a fundamental element of a democratic society. Both greater transparency and public participation can not only lead to better policies and services, they can also promote public sector integrity, which is essential to regaining the trust of citizens in the neutrality and reliability of public administrations.
Open Government and the FOI Act
A significant component to achieving Open Government is legislation to enshrine a person’s right to access information and to require agencies to assist the public in that process. The public expects government decision-making to be open, transparent and accountable and the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) (the FOI Act) represents part of WA Parliament’s commitment to realising that expectation.
In section 3 of the FOI Act, Parliament makes it clear that the objects of the Act are to enable the public to participate more effectively in governing the State and to make the persons and bodies that are responsible for State and local government more accountable to the public.
The Supreme Court of Western Australia noted in Water Corporation v McKay  WASC 210 per Martin J at paragraph 38 that the objects of the FOI Act ‘form the essential bedrock of open, democratic government whose policy importance cannot be overstated’.
Open Government Partnership and National Action Plan
The multilateral Open Government Partnership (OGP) was created to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness technologies to strengthen governance. There are now 70 countries – including Australia – participating in the OGP.
Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18
On 7 December 2016, the Australian Government announced the finalisation of Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan. The Plan contained 15 ambitious 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.
State and Territory Information Access Commissioners and Ombudsmen, led by New South Wales, contributed to the development of the Plan through the inclusion of Commitment 3.2 on information access rights utilisation.
Development of national metrics
Under Commitment 3.2, the NSW Information Commissioner led work by Australian Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen to develop (within the remit of their jurisdictions) uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information access rights and the collection and publication of this data. The objective was that Australia will better measure and improve our understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws.
The scope of the metrics (detailed here) cover:
• Type of applicant
• Application rates per capita
• Release rates
• Refusal rates
• Review rates
A summary of the public consultation feedback process undertaken is provided here.
In line with the milestones for Commitment 3.2 detailed in the National Action Plan, NSW lead a validation and pilot process for data collection and presentation, for release of the first data report using the metrics. That process has now been completed and the results are published here.
Open Government National Action Plan 2018-20
Australias second Open Government National Action Plan was released on 21 September 2018. The plan seeks to:
- strengthen the national anti-corruption framework;
- enhance the transparency of political donations and funding;
- improve the sharing, use and reuse of public-sector data;
- improve public service practices using place-based approaches;
- enhance state and territory participation in the Open Government Partnership;
- enhance public engagement skills in the public service;
- engage Australians in the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service; and
- expand open contracting and due diligence in procurement.
Further information on Australia’s involvement in the OGP, including the Plan, is available at ogpau.pmc.gov.au
Information Access Study 2019
In conjunction with Information Access Commissioners from NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the Commonwealth of Australia and the Ombudsman from ACT, the WA Commissioner sponsored an information access study, as part of Australia’s Open Government National Action Plan 2018–2020. The Information Access Study 2019 measures citizens’ awareness of the right to access government information, and their experiences and outcomes in exercising that right. The study was coordinated by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of New South Wales and conducted by Woolcott Research and Engagement.
The results of the WA study are available <here>.
A summary of the comparative study across the jurisdictions is available <here>.
A joint media statement from Information Access Commissioners and Ombudsman, released on 30 September 2019, is available <here>.