Text size: A A A

Business people make six times as many FOI requests as journos in NSW

Journalists only made 3% of requests for New South Wales government information in the last financial year, while six times as many came from private sector companies.

Members of the public made 73% of all requests under the Government Information Public Access legislation in 2016-17 and 52% of were solely for personal information. Another 18% were commercially motivated, compared to only 2% from not-for-profits, and members of parliament made 4% of requests.

The latest GIPA statistics from the NSW Information and Privacy Commission, presented in a series of interactive charts on a data dashboard (below), show that journalists mainly target ministerial offices with their requests for information.

Setting the chart to isolate requests to ministers presents a very different picture. MPs and members of the public both made 27% of the requests to ministerial offices, with the media not far behind on 21%, private sector companies on 15% and nonprofits responsible for 9%.

So, in NSW at least, it is clear that most of the information requests public servants respond to are from people seeking their own information, followed by business people, and journalists hunting around for a story barely rate. The picture may look very different at federal level, but the same sort of breakdown isn’t available.

Several of the Commonwealth’s departmental heads and the APS commissioner have argued in recent years that the federal Freedom of Information Act should be be amended to cast a larger shadow over their advice to government.

In 2016, Department of Health secretary Glenys Beauchamp said most FOI requests she saw came from “journalists looking for a story”, as head of the Industry department at the time. Demonstrating a common difference of opinion between people inside government and those who observe it from the outside, she questioned whether this was the “original intent” of the legislation.

The NSW IPC’s dashboard is rich in a wealth of other data, allowing the user to isolate the statistics for any individual public sector body — government agencies, ministerial offices, state-owned corporations, universities or local councils — or a combination of several. The underlying data is available in spreadsheet form and is posted on data.nsw.gov.au.

A total of 15,551 requests came through over 16-17 and 71% of those were at least partially granted, while 11% were refused, and in 2% of cases the entity refused to deal with the application. The rest were either withdrawn or related to information that was not held by the entity, or was already publicly available.

A solid 87% of the applications were valid, and the same percentage of the eventual decisions were reached within the statutory timeframe, while applicants agreed to wait a little longer in 7% of cases.

The stats show public sector bodies often make the wrong call about information request the first time around. Of the decisions that were reviewed, 57% were changed.

Most reviews were internal (42%) while information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd handled 36% and only 9% went to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.