FOI caseload for Information Commissioner causes growing concerns

Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk admitted a growing FOI caseload would be difficult without extra resources. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk admitted a growing FOI caseload would be difficult without extra resources. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Concerns are being raised over whether the agency tasked with handling freedom of information requests is inadequately funded as the watchdog's head has admitted future workload would be difficult without additional resources committed.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner appeared before a Senate estimates committee on Tuesday evening to answer questions over one of its core functions - processing freedom of information request reviews.

Independent senator Rex Patrick pointed to a recently-answered question on notice that Information Commissioner Angelene Falk provided, highlighting a gap in the agency's capacity to handle an expected workload increase in the coming years.

It outlined the office was equipped to handle around 829 requests each year but it was asked to review 1066 applications in 2020.

This year, it was expected the figure would increase to 1226 requests, and to 1410 and 1622 requests in subsequent years - all while remaining at the 829 capacity figure.

"You're just gonna be in a situation where you actually have twice the number of applications than you can actually handle," Senator Patrick said.

"I would characterise [it] as a train smash, I mean, what are we going to do here when it's just getting out of control?"

Ms Falk said while she remained hopeful, she conceded it would be a challenge to deal with mounting requests while the existing backlog was worked through.

"I do hold the view that without some additional resources, it will be difficult," Ms Falk said.

"The office will continue to be challenged in terms of having that backlog, and having those older matters, despite our best efforts."

She added the agency was working as fast as it could and had looked to different strategies, such as training and workshops, to make staff more efficient.

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Senator Amanda Stoker, who fronted the committee as a government representative, said it was about striking a balance between the policy and review work.

"There's always a tension between the amount of resources one wants and the limits that exist for us in the real world," Senator Stoker said.

"I can see that the commissioner is working very hard to get that balance right and government is giving her as much support as we can to do that important role."

This story 'It will be difficult': Concerns over growing FOI caseload for watchdog first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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