25 June 2008

Freedom of Information shake-up for Department of Immigration

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The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has introduced fundamental changes to its Freedom of Information (FOI) processes to clear out the backlog of information requests and create a more streamlined management model.

Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary for the Department of Immigration, said in a press release the FOI department is working hard to maintain its commitment to providing information within the official 30-day timeframe, but that it will take additional staff, training and reforms within the business processes to maintain efficiency.

A FOI taskforce was created in January to combat the massive backlog of information requests.  November last year, the department had over 3000 FOI requests, of which 2686 remained unanswered after 30 days of receipt.  By May, the number of overdue FOI requests had reduced to 750.  To date, the overdue backlog is sitting around 400 requests, while the department have 800 on hand. 

“We have become increasingly more efficient since April when DIAC’s 24-hour, 30-day case management model began.  This model sees all files ordered within 24 hours of receipt of request.  We are currently finalising 70 per cent of new requests within 30 days and expect a 90 per cent success rate by September”, Mr Metcalfe said. 

The Government’s Ombudsman report was released today, which provided solutions for the DIAC to overcome its backlog and maintain a standard of response that commits to the statutory 30-day timeframe.  The report, ‘Timeliness of Decision Making under the Freedom of Information Act 1982’, gives the department advice on how to streamline processes so clients can receive information within 30 days.

The department have developed ways in which information requests can bypass the official FOI process, so that, for instance, international movement statistics can be accessed from local DIAC offices or posts.  Mr Metcalfe believes this change alone will cut back 7000 FOI requests annually.

Reforms in staff training will also provide other avenues for information requests to bypass the FOI process.  Staff will be trained to access personal information and original documents, and to understand what information can be released under the Privacy Act. “This ensures clients are more likely to receive the information they want in a shorter timeframe and means a more effective use of departmental resources.  It’s a better outcome for all concerned”, he added.

The reforms will provide better access to information regarding Australian migration, for example the number of people arriving in Australia on an Australia visa and the rate at which citizen numbers are growing as a result.  Information about refugees in Australia and others migrating to Australia on a permanent basis will also become more easily available to the public.  This will be particularly important for businesses who are seeking skilled workers to boost employment numbers and need information from the government about immigration policies and statistics.

Anyone interested in migrating to Australia, should take Visa Bureau’s online assessment to see if they qualify for skilled migration to Australia

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