New Report Reveals Government Ministers are Disengaged on FOI


Monash University is launching a report this week that addresses the culture and attitudes towards freedom of information (FOI). It examines key aspects of FOI culture and practices, proposing significant reforms to the FOI system.

Researchers undertook 377 surveys as well as interviews with 257 individuals at 96 agencies from hospitals, government departments, statutory agencies, local government and universities across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia before publishing The culture of Implementing Freedom of Information in Australia,

Key findings from the report highlighted issues such as informational bottlenecks, inadequate resources, and a lack of understanding or commitment to FOI principles beyond dedicated FOI teams in government agencies. A culture of damage control and a reluctance to release sensitive information was found to create significant challenges for FOI coordinators, who struggle to comply with legislation while being perpetually underfunded in terms of staffing. The report underscores the critical need for adequate funding to support FOI processes, promoting transparency and the effective operation of FOI Acts.

“A well-functioning and comprehensive FOI system acts as a deterrent against corruption within political systems, as those involved are aware of the high likelihood of being exposed,” said Associate Professor of Journalism at Monash University Johan Lidberg. “It also empowers the public with independent access to information, enabling greater participation in the political process and fostering a healthier democratic environment. FOI practitioners across the board possess a deep knowledge and understanding of the purposes, functions and challenges facing the FOI processes in their respective states. It’s incumbent upon their agencies and state commissioners to listen to their insights. Practitioners want to make FOI work better.”

Notably, the report also reveals a concerning lack of engagement from government ministers, despite their pivotal role in upholding FOI provisions. Lidberg said the lack of engagement from this group was both disappointing, but also an important finding in itself.

“The one group with the most potential impact on FOI functionality did not judge access to information important enough to contribute their views to the study,” he said. “Until government ministers prioritise FOI/access to information on their policy agenda, little is likely to change.”

The report recommends several legislative and administrative changes to improve FOI culture and practices. These include modernising terminology and procedures to reflect digital environments, streamlining consultation requirements, ensuring realistic legislative timeframes, developing proactive release policies, and providing recurring, sector-specific FOI training.

The report will be officially launched via webinar on June 18, 2024, from 1 pm to 2 pm (AEST). The research team will summarise the findings, and the Information Commissioners and Ombudsman will respond to the findings and recommendations in a panel discussion. Registration for the event is free.