Commissioner Grilled on Five Year FOI Backlog

Challenged in a Senate Committee why the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has a backlog of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests stretching back to 2019, Commissioner Angelene Falk blamed a lack of resources.

She stated as at 29 February 2024 there were 284 matters on hand; 692 matters from FOI applications lodged in 2023, 566 from 2022, 405 from 2021, 199 from 2020, and 67 from 2019.

When asked by Senator David Shoebridge why the OAIC has 67 matters that have taken five years, Commissioner Angelene Falk said, “It's a historical matter that's been compounded over the years for the office. It's a combination of increased IC reviews being received by the office without commensurate resources.”

Senator Shoebridge responded “It's going to take you 15 years or more to deal with the backlog. That's not a strategy to deal with the backlog; that's a strategy of managed decline.”

“The numbers that you've given suggest you're not going to fix it. Do we just accept that the FOI system will remain broken for the next decade and a half? Is that how should I read the numbers, Commissioner Falk?

“The data that I have suggests that if we are able to continue to make a 15 per cent improvement in terms of efficiencies on review applications, that will enable us to bring the backlog under control over the forward estimates,” Commissioner Falk replied.

“But what would, of course, make a significant difference would be to have additional resources to be able to apply to that.”

In her opening statement to the Committee, Commissioner Falk stated “The OAIC is funded by a combination of terminating and ongoing measures. Several of these terminating measures are due to end at the conclusion of this financial year.

“We are in discussion with government about the OAIC's resourcing needs. A strategic review of the OAIC was conducted between October 2023 and February of this year, and an implementation plan will be provided in April. The review examined the operations of the OAIC and helps us take stock of an organisation that has grown and changed significantly since it was established.

“The review is currently being considered by the OAIC and government in the context of budget processes.”

Commissioner Falk also said the OIAC has been “greatly strengthened” by the appointment of two new commissioners, with Elizabeth Tydd starting work as Freedom of Information Commissioner on February 19 and Carly Kind commencing as Privacy Commissioner on February on 26.