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Attorney-General and Justice – Right to Information

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: Right to Information, Commission of Inquiry

Dr WOODRUFF - The Premier said this morning that he is keen to increase transparency in relation to media inquiries, departmental responses and the timing of Right to Information requests. In evidence that was provided to the commission of inquiry, it was clear that the failures in the RTI process are, at least in part, symptomatic of a cultural problem.

What are you going to do to address this cultural aversion to transparency? The previous premier, Mr Gutwein, had also made comments about wanting to increase transparency that clearly didn't happen?

Ms ARCHER - What has occurred, and what did occur with the former premier, is that Mr Gutwein and I met with the Ombudsman, who is the appropriate person to talk to about the administration of the Right to Information Act. It was the Ombudsman's view that we didn't need to overhaul the system but that it would be good to get a consistent approach across departments. Sometimes that can be an issue for RTI officers. There is a significant role to be played by the Ombudsman, which is why we've provided the additional funding that I outlined earlier to this committee. I will not repeat it but it is a significant amount of funding for additional resources to that office, - one of which is to provide education to our RTI officers.

There has been talk of the Ombudsman seconding people from the department to see how the Ombudsman's office operates so there is a consistent approach from the Ombudsman's office across departments. None of this is intentional but if there's also a recommendation that any part of the Right to Information Act needs amending, then I have tasked the Ombudsman with that. I await any further responses that he might provide in relation to that. He indicated, I believe, in evidence before committees last year in the other place that he now has the additional resources he needs for that purpose. Looking at the act overall, he doesn't believe we need to create a whole new system but there could be a role to play in the education of officers.

Dr WOODRUFF - I have another question in relation to this.

Ms ARCHER - There is a huge willingness of the Government to work with the Ombudsman on this. As the Premier has outlined this morning, that is the case. The Ombudsman is independent of the Government and he has indicated that overall the act works well. We've made various amendments -

Dr WOODRUFF - I wasn't asking about the Ombudsman. I was asking about the culture within Government and the Right to Information process. The commission of inquiry heard a range of evidence about the failure for people to easily be able to get information through the Right to Information.

Ms ARCHER - I have addressed that correctly. If there is a culture then we are willing to work with the Ombudsman, as he has recommended, for RTI officers to take a consistent approach with the Ombudsman's office as well. I am sure you are not suggesting that there's a bad culture within the office of the Ombudsman. I have actually linked my answer to that question of culture.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. Right to Information starts with each department. The Ombudsman is the end of the line. Funding the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, so to speak, is important but it's really about the upstream failure for transparency within -

Ms ARCHER - I have answered your question Dr Woodruff. Culture is about education.

Dr WOODRUFF - Can you let me finish my question, because this is a new question. The question is about the funding for the right to information processes, because the department puts funding in the Budget for improving right to information processes, but it is only for two years. The Budget claims that this is going to reduce key-person dependencies in agencies. How is this going to occur without ongoing funding for more staff?

Ms ARCHER - I am checking the funding. As I said at the outset, you have talked about the culture. And I have said if there is that culture or inconsistency between departments, then the recommendation of the Ombudsman has been one of education and that is what we will do.

There is that significant additional funding, as we have all agreed, to the office of the Ombudsman. The additional funding for extra staff to that office doesn't just stop. Obviously, the forward Estimates are the forward Estimates, and as we get to next budgets we determine the next amount of funding that is required.

Quite regularly, members come into this place and just expect that funding will drop off if it's not in the forward Estimates.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well it's not there. That's what the forward Estimates are. That's what they show us. You don't have it there.

CHAIR - Order.

Ms ARCHER - What the member is suggesting is that the additional resourcing that's provided to the Ombudsman will suddenly end. You are reading forward Estimates, and can I use the word 'estimates'. The member's interjecting and I am trying to explain that in the forward Estimates, we often have funding that might appear in the forward Estimates, and then when we get to that year we fund further.

Now, Mr Winter is laughing. It is no different under former Labor governments as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - I have never heard of this before.

Ms ARCHER - Yes, you have.

Dr WOODRUFF - A zero is a zero. Are you saying if there is no funding, that more will appear?

Ms ARCHER - Many a time have we continued to fund things beyond certain points, and we don't reach into the further estimates because that is a matter for each budget year.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, that is a complete laugh. Are you saying that all of the estimates for the out years of three and four in the Budget are meaningless?

Ms ARCHER - No. We review the circumstances every year, and we extend funding quite frequently every year. We don't necessarily reach into the future in terms of what funding may be required because it may be increased funding.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, you certainly don't reach into the future and make a commitment to increasing right to information transparency. That's what you would read from the Budget.

Ms ARCHER - Dr Woodruff is wrong, because there is significant funding attached to right to information. And she is not reading the Budget papers correctly.