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Freedom of Information charges explode.



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Robert McClelland MP Federal Member for Barton Shadow Attorney-General Shadow Minister for Justice and Community Security

8 July 2003

Freedom of Information charges explode

I have today written to the Ombudsman inviting him to investigate why charges for FOI requests have exploded under the Howard Government, in direct defiance of a warning by the Ombudsman to rein them in.

New analysis released today by Labor reveals that charges notified by the Howard Government in response to FOI requests leapt from $308,689 in 1998-99, to $552,038 in 1999-2000, $1,099,380 in 2000-01 and $825,779 in 2001-02. (Attachment 1)

In June 1999, the Ombudsman investigated the Howard Government’s administration of the FOI Act, noting in his report that “there is concern that charges are being unreasonably determined and applied by agencies as a means of deterring FOI requests”. (Attachment 2)

The Ombudsman concluded that the evidence “lends weight to the concern that some agencies may be setting unreasonably high charges to process FOI requests” and recommended the Government introduce appropriate controls.

In direct defiance of the Ombudsman’s warning, charges notified in response to FOI requests practically doubled in each of the following two years, as the Howard Government began to suffer poor polling the lead-up to an election.

Few of these extra charges were actually collected, raising serious concerns that they were only ever notified to deter requests for information.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams should explain why the Coalition expects Australians to pay such a high price for openness in government, particularly before an election.

Daryl Williams has a clear case to answer about his competence to uphold the integrity of Australia’s freedom of information laws.

For further information:

Robert McClelland 0408 118 995 Jonathan Kirkwood 0425 231 690

(See attachments)

Attachment 1

Charges for FOI requests

0

200,000

400,000

600,000

800,000

1,000,000

1,200,000

1994-95 1995-96 1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02

Year

$

Charges notified

Charges collected

Year Number of FOI requests Charges notified Charges collected 1994-95 37,367 $289,226 $206,687

1995-96 39,327 $308,608 $200,166

1996-97 30,788 $284,361 $116,233

1997-98 32,590 $386,726 $130,193

1998-99 33,484 $308,689 $168,989

1999-00 31,784 $552,038 $173,649

2000-01 35,439 $1,099,380 $126,052

2001-02 37,169 $825,779 $198,551

Source: Annual Reports tabled by the Attorney-General in Parliament on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Attachment 2

Extract from Needs to Know, June 1999 report by the Commonwealth Ombudsman on the administration of the Freedom of Information Act:

“Charges

4.9. An increasing number of complaints to this Office are about the reasonableness of the charges notified by agencies to process FOI requests.

[…]

4.12. There is concern that charges are being unreasonably determined and applied by agencies as a means of deterring FOI requests.

[…]

4.14. Collectively, the above data lends weight to the concern that some agencies may be setting unreasonably high charges to process FOI requests.

Recommendation

17.Agencies introduce quality control procedures to monitor the notification of charges for FOI requests to ensure that charges notified are reasonable, and within the provisions of FOI (Fees and Charges) Regulation No 4 and accord with the purpose of the Act, and are determined consistent with the advice in the Attorney-General’s Department FOI Memorandum No 29.”

Full report available at: http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/publications_information/Special_Reports/NeedstoKnow.pdf