In November 2011, PIAC made a submission to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in response to the discussion paper about fees and charges under the FOI Act 1982 (Cth). This submission draws on PIAC’s earlier submissions to the Commonwealth government in response to its exposure drafts of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 and to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee on the Commonwealth freedom of information reforms in 2009.
PIAC argues the imposition of fees and charges sits uncomfortably with the principle that individuals have a right to access information, and that such fundamental rights should not be made conditional on paying for them. This is a cost that government should bear as part of fulfilling its democratic responsibilities of being transparent and accountable to the people. However, if the OAIC maintains that there should be processing charges under the FOI Act, these should be should be based on the amount of information provided rather than the time taken to process a request. There are a number of advantages to this approach. Firstly, it would be easier for an agency to calculate costs on this basis and would ensure that the calculation of costs was more transparent to, and understandable by, applicants. It would also improve the consistency of charging across different government agencies. Moreover, PIAC is of the view that applicants should not be penalised if agencies do not have efficient record-management systems.