Information Commissioner promises “rigorous” pursuit of IPS compliance

Freedom of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd wants to embed a culture of compliance with the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) in Australian Government agencies in a “systematic and rigorous manner”.

Introduced in 2011, the IPS scheme requires agencies to proactively publish a range of documents and information on their websites including additional information beyond that required by the FOI Act.

A survey by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in 2023 found that just over 70% of agencies publish each of the types of information required by the IPS on their website

In a forward to the OAIC Survey Report published on June 12, Commissioner Tydd said the results “help both the OAIC and agencies identify areas where improvements can be made to support the proactive publication of information held by Australian Government agencies.”

“One finding of concern is that the majority (78%) of agencies believed there would be no change to the number of FOI requests their agencies receive if proactive publication under the IPS was increased.”

 A total of 196 agencies participated in the survey out of 209 agencies invited to take part. Similar surveys were also undertaken in 2012 and 2018.

The 2023 survey found that:

- Only 29% of agencies have adopted a strategy for increasing open access to information they hold, down from 35% in 2018.

- Only 20% of agencies maintain an IPS information register, down from 38% in 2018. Maintaining an IPS information register was the most common challenge agencies reported, experienced by 36% of agencies, up from 18% in 2018.

- Only 73% of agencies publish information that they routinely release in response to freedom of information (FOI) requests, down from 79% in 2018 and 86% in 2012.

- 75% of agencies publish consultation arrangements for members of the public to comment on specific policy proposals for which the agency is responsible, slightly above 72% in 2018 but below 86% in 2012.

“These results indicate that the intent of the scheme is not fully realised,” said Commissioner Tydd. “Collectively there is work to do to ensure that the objects of the FOI Act are realised. The FOI Act aims to increase public participation in government processes and increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activities. We have a tool to promote open government in the FOI Act and collectively we can achieve that ambition.

“I have set out a forward plan to work with agencies to promote proactive release of information. This includes continuing to actively engage with senior leaders to secure their commitment to this important and mandated responsibility. It is clear that the involvement of senior leaders in agencies is critical in harnessing the IPS to enable a proactive approach to releasing information.

“The OAIC will also conduct a survey of agency practices and needs and use this information – along with the results of the IPS survey – to inform our provision of resources, and will review the FOI Guidelines relating to the IPS. Our objective is to promote understanding and make compliance easy so that the Australian community receives access to information as intended under the FOI Act.”

Read the Information Publication Scheme 2023 review report.