This guidance will help you make access to information an integral part of your agency’s business, and ensure all staff members recognise their duty to help facilitate timely access to information.
As a senior executive, you have an important role helping to achieve the object of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act). This Act aims to:
- authorise and encourage agencies to proactively release government information
- give citizens an enforceable right to access government information
- ensure that access to government information is restricted only where there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.
The GIPA Act and leadership
The GIPA Act was established to provide an open and transparent process for members of the public to access government information from NSW public sector agencies, and to encourage agencies to proactively release that information.
The GIPA Act replaced the Freedom of Information Act 1989 on 1 July 2010. The law applies to all NSW public sector agencies, including:
- government Departments and agencies
- ministers and their personal staff
- NSW local councils
- public offices, including universities and state owned corporations.
The law facilitates access to information by:
- requiring agencies to make certain information publicly available
- authorising agencies to proactively release other information to the community
- authorising agencies to release their information in response to informal requests for access
- giving the public a legally enforceable right to access government information by making an access application, unless there is an overriding public interest against doing so.
Importantly, the GIPA Act ensures that no minister can control or direct an agency when it is dealing with a request to access information.
Transparent and open government
The Information Commissioner has stated that stimulating the effective, ongoing release of government held information will require strategic, operational and cultural change. As a senior executive, you have a responsibility to help achieve this outcome.
Increasing the amount of accessible government information and data improves transparency and accountability, supports evidence-based policy development, and provides a platform for innovation.
You can realise these benefits by releasing information according to a planned strategic intention that will benefit and inform other areas of your agency’s work.
The following principles should help you to make access to information an integral part of your agency’s business, and ensure that all staff members recognise their duty to facilitate timely access to information.
- Uphold the public sector’s commitment to leadership: Adhering to public sector core values, as outlined in the sector-wide Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW government sector employees, is fundamental to your success. Your responsibilities under the GIPA Act and the Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (GSE Act) complement each other.
- Promote the four pathways:
You must ensure access to the four pathways under the GIPA Act - mandatory release, authorised release, informal release, and access application. To this end, you can facilitate open access to publicly available information, promote the disclosure of government information, and provide access to information when requested. Under the GIPA Act you must proactively release specific information held by your agency and are encouraged to proactively and informally release other information. The formal pathway for releasing information in response to a GIPA Act request requires you to adopt a presumption in favour of release. It is important to note that the agency as a whole is responsible for meeting GIPA Act obligations.
- Promote a pro-disclosure culture: Instigating this culture and leading by example will help your staff members adopt a similar approach. Agencies should also review their information release program and information guides at least annually. See the Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) Guideline 6: Agency Information Guides and Agency Information Guides - Self-Assessment Checklist for Agencies for more information.
- Regularly and proactively raise awareness of information access issues: Various strategies can increase engagement on information access issues, including informed officers delivering presentations to staff members; providing targeted training; and including formal objectives to address these issues in your agency’s Code of Conduct.
- Assess whether to release data and other information under an authorised proactive release: Consider publishing information that is frequently requested on data.nsw.gov.au. This site aims to make data more accessible to the public and industries.
You should regularly review your agency's disclosure log to determine whether you could publish information provided under formal access applications or make it available under an authorised proactive release.
- Ensure your agency has sound record-keeping practices: You should have robust agency record management systems, including consistent naming conventions and search terms. A fault or failure in your information governance systems can present significant risks.
- Encourage Right to Information Officers to make informed and independent decisions: The GIPA Act states that Right to Information Officers should be given authority to make decisions. Although these officers can usually rely on staff in operational areas to promptly identify and provide relevant documents and expert assistance, agency staff members may not be familiar with information access requests. A culture of accountability and timeliness is required to support the officers carrying out their statutory functions.
- Review the resources available for dealing with access requests: You must ensure that there are adequate resources to deal with information access requests, particularly at times when there is an increase in the number or complexity of requests.
- Monitor and reward good performance: You can champion your agency’s proactive release culture by including key performance indicators related to responsibilities under the GIPA Act.
For more information on the above principles, see the IPC fact sheet The role of principal officers and senior executives in supporting the object of the GIPA Act.
Inadequate training and procedures can leave agencies vulnerable to non-compliance, undue influence, and complaints. Investing in the capabilities of staff members who deal with information access requests will lead to better decision making and analysis, and help build overall capacity within your agency.
Make sure you have systems in place for monitoring staff training and that new staff members receive baseline training, including the IPC’s free e-learning modules.
Remember that recordkeeping practices are always changing, so it's important to constantly update staff knowledge and maintain robust procedures that help your agency exercise its functions.
Designate contacts for GIPA Act matters
It may be helpful to identify one or two contacts for GIPA Act matters in specific business areas that receive frequent information access requests. These contacts can help retrieve information, and provide the decision maker with context and advice on behalf of the business area.
Senior executive obligations
The NSW Cabinet system
Service delivery enablers