Information commissioners and ombuds from Australia and New Zealand have called on government agencies to do more to make information accessible to the public.
As part of International Right to Know Day, which took place on 28 September, the leaders have encouraged agencies to take a “proactive approach towards releasing information” by improving information to the public while protecting sensitive content.
The public’s right to know would set the expectation for government accountability, prompt better decision-making and strengthen citizen engagement with the public sector, they said in a joint statement.
“This is increasingly important as government services are delivered using digital services and technology. In this environment the right to know can ensure that we leave no one behind,” they said.
The statement was signed by the Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk; ACT Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe; Chief Ombudsman of NZ Peter Boshier; NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd; Victorian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel; Queensland Information Commissioner Rachael Rangihaeata; WA Information Commissioner Catherine Fletcher; SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines; Tasmanian Ombudsman Richard Connock; and NT Information Commissioner and Ombudsman Peter Shoyer.
The ombuds and commissioners gathered in Brisbane for the annual Solomon Lecture, delivered by barrister Fiona McLeod.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus also marked the occasion by urging the government to do better.
“Since 2002, International Right to Know Day has helped to raise awareness of the importance of open, transparent and accountable governance. When people have access to government information, they are better informed — and governments are more accountable and make better decisions.”
He called on them to ensure the Office of the Australian Information Commission is appropriately resourced so it can do its job efficiently, commit to take freedom of information requests seriously, comply with legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, and rule out the prosecution of journalists for doing their jobs.
The commissioners have also released results from their first nationwide study of community attitudes to access to government information.
Commissioners from NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA, the Commonwealth and the ACT Ombudsman sponsored the research as part of the Open Government National Action Plan 2018–2020.
The study looked at individuals’ awareness and experiences in regards to their right to access government information. It found that 85 – 93% of respondents recognised the importance of the right to access information, while 77-85% were aware of their right to access information from government departments and agencies.