15 November 2016 has been named ‘Simplify Day’ by the Government of South Australia. According to the YourSAy community consultation website, the day is intended to “remove outdated legislation” and appears to be geared primarily towards assisting the business community. The website states that the Government of South Australia “wants to know about specific rules and processes that are outdated or unnecessary – things you think do not add value, make interacting with government time consuming and generally make it more difficult to simply get on and grow the economy, business and create jobs.” Encouragingly, it also states that it does not intend to “takeaway fundamental protections” which “safeguard the community, the environment, protect consumers and uphold the integrity of commerce.”
I made a late submission to Simplify Day, making some recommendations regarding the improvement of the administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1991, which has become an important tool of my trade. This Act of South Australian legislation allows me to request documentation from South Australian government departments and agencies in order to report accurately on government and public sector activities. My submission was greeted by a prompt and courteous response, and is supplied in full below:
“To whom it may concern,
As a freelance public interest researcher and documentary filmmaker, I have become a frequent user of South Australian and Commonwealth Freedom of Information Acts.
A simple but significant opportunity exists to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (South Australia).
Having lodged FoI requests with various agencies and departments, the first opportunity I would like to recommend be considered for Simplify Day 2016 is to introduce a centralised payment system for the lodgement of requests.
Given that the fee for lodgement is fixed, regardless of which department or agency a request is made of, I wish to propose the following suggestions:
1) Establish a single online payment point of lodgement, where an applicant is able to:
- pay their lodgement fee via visa, paypal or similar
- choose the relevant agency/department they wish to lodge with from a pull-down list
- fill out an electronic template/webform (rather than the current paper form)
- track the progress of their request
2) Establish a central FoI disclosure log/database containing:
- all documentation released under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 since its establishment
- keyword searchable
- sortable by department/agency
- with download links for all documents released in this way
These two reforms would make the Act more accessible to South Australian applicants, and the results more accessible to South Australia thus serving the public interest. It would practically eliminate the prospect of duplicate requests for information which has already been released under the Act. This would improve the utility of the Act for people like myself who wish to report accurately on public affairs and our respective businesses.
I have also written to the Attorney-General about this topic recently and provided him with examples of simple FoI disclosure logs in place in other Australian jurisdictions. I can forward this correspondence to you should you consider it worthwhile.