Be 'proactive' on data release: NSW lays foundation for ensuring agencies comply

By David Donaldson

August 10, 2016

New South Wales agencies should move towards an open by default approach to releasing information, says the state’s information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd.

Promoting the proactive release of information by government agencies is one of the three objectives aimed at delivering “proactive, intelligence-led and risk-based regulation”, outlined in the NSW Information and Privacy Commission’s first annual Information Commissioner’s Regulatory Plan 2016-17.

At present the rate of release for government data in NSW is around 69%, says the IPC.

The commission is concerned agencies are not releasing enough information to comply with the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009. An earlier IPC report “identified that full compliance with the mandatory requirements of the GIPA Act is not being achieved and therefore the strategic intent of the GIPA Act is not being fully realised. This is particularly significant given requirements to promote proactive release mechanisms to support transparency,” argues the plan.

“The GIPA Act contains a number of mechanisms to ensure that citizens have a knowledge of and access to government information that is both current and significant in relation to the formulation of policy and service delivery by agencies, together with access to arrangements to participate in the formulation of policy and service delivery by agencies.”

The commission’s other two key objectives are to protect information access rights and report on and foster agency compliance with information access obligations.

The IPC takes a three-tier approach to compliance: promoting voluntary compliance, working with those possibly in non-compliance through complaints and reviews, and enforcement of systemic non-compliance. It is hoped the release of an annual regulatory plan will allow regulated agencies to know and voluntarily respond to the IPC’s priority areas in the context of their own operations to ensure compliance without the need for more targeted IPC regulatory action.

Staying strategic and managing risk

NSW information commissioner and head of the IPC Elizabeth Tydd has also released the IPC Regulatory Framework, which is being trialled in the delivery of information access regulatory servicesTydd explained that the two documents would help make the IPC’s regulatory approach to promoting compliance, protecting information access rights and balancing other rights including privacy, secrecy and security in NSW.

“Both the IPC Regulatory Framework and the Information Commissioner’s Regulatory Plan are central to the IPC’s strategic, risk-based and intelligence-led approach to regulation in 2016-2017,” she says.

“Providing regulated sectors and the general public with a clear statement of jurisdiction and regulatory approach is a clear manifestation of the IPC’s commitment to open and transparent regulation. Importantly, together, the Regulatory Framework and Regulatory Plan give the public and agencies a better understanding of the work of the IPC.”

The framework provides an insight into how the IPC views risk: “We seek to support compliance with an approach that allows flexibility for regulated agencies to operate freely to achieve the outcomes prescribed by the legislation, and at the same time ensure that risks remain within tolerable levels,” it says. “We will make the best use of our limited resources to proactively reduce the risks posed to an acceptable level.”

The IPC says the new regulatory framework is part of its commitment to open and transparent regulation, and will give the public and agencies a better understanding of the work of the IPC.

It hopes to work closely with those it regulates, acknowledging, “that the agencies affected by compliance activities are the ones best placed to help design and deliver what is needed. Accordingly, a key source each year is the IPC’s engagement with agencies to identify risks and compliance activities to target our regulatory effort.”

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