Michelle Lensink

Freedom of Information

 I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Tourism a question about FOI requests.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 30 May I asked the minister to take a question on notice regarding the patronage of the government's corporate suite 27 (the schmooze suite) to which the minister responded:

If the honourable member wants any detailed information about the box, that is available. She can put in an FOI request.

If the minister is up to date with her correspondence she will know that I have requested the information via FOI, but through either the minister's incompetence or caginess I have had to request an internal review for that information. I am not sure whether this is a problem common to other members of parliament, so my questions to the minister are:

1.At present how many FOI requests have been received and are awaiting determination?

2.How many of those are subject to internal reviews?

3.How many of those are subject to external reviews?

4.Will the minister have at least one extra person to help her with her workload now that the job of taking bookings for the schmooze suite has been made redundant?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (14:35): I find it incredible that, after doing away with the corporate box, we have come under such criticism from the opposition. So, if we keep the box, we are criticised and, if we get rid of the box, we are criticised. I find it quite remarkable. As members would be aware, all agencies have their own accredited FOI officers, under the FOI Act. These officers consider the scope of requests and determine any appropriate documents for their release, and they do that in a very independent way. That process has nothing to do with ministers. It is not even at arms length; it is done quite independently of ministers.

In terms of how many FOIs I have received, I do not know. They come through to those officers, and those officers deal with them and respond to them in the appropriate way. If the honourable member has any queries about her FOI (it was probably rejected because she could not fill out the form the right way), as I have said, I have no say or no part whatsoever in those decisions, and she needs to contact the appropriate officer dealing with that application. As I have said, it is a matter that is completely independent of me. Frankly, I am not at all surprised that some FOI applications may take longer than others. For example, the total number of FOI applications received by the state government in 2010-11 was almost 12,000, which is an increase of almost 30 per cent from 2001-02. The number of FTEs working on FOI across the state government was estimated to be just under 91 in 2010-11, and that is an increase of 118 per cent from 2001-02. So, there has been an increase of 118 per cent in staff since the former Liberal government had responsibility for FOIs, which is incredible, and almost a 30 per cent increase in the number of FOI applications that this government is dealing with compared with the former Liberal government when it was responsible for FOIs. I am advised that the total cost of administering FOI for state government, local government and universities has risen since the government's first term of office, and it was estimated to be $8.5 million in 2010-11.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister might want to repeat that cost, because I didn't hear it.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I will, for your benefit, Mr President. The total cost of administering FOI for the financial year 2010-11 was $8.5 million—you will be even more impressed with this figure, Mr President—and that is a 400 per cent increase in the cost of administering FOIs since the former Liberal government was in power and taking responsibility for FOI. So, that is a 400 per cent increase in costs compared with the former Liberal government. I am advised that applications from MPs have increased considerably and tend to be incredibly time consuming, often due to their broad scope and complexity.

Of course, we have examples of honourable members in this place requesting FOIs for documents that are in fact on the public record and available to the public in the form of an annual report. I will not name names, but a member in this place put in an FOI for a document that is part of a report tabled annually in parliament. So that is how lazy the opposition are. They cannot even get off their tails and check whether the information is already on the public record. No, no, no: fill out an FOI and waste taxpayers' hard-earned money and a hardworking public servant's time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:40): I have a supplementary. Will the minister come back with replies to questions she has not answered, or is she refusing to in relation to the number in her office—internal reviews, external reviews?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (14:41): The number of FOIs that my office has received? These are questions that are very easy to forget because they are so banal. I am happy to take that question on notice in terms of the number of FOIs my office has received. I do not know. These are matters dealt with by the appropriate FOI officers. They are completely independent of me, but if the honourable member wants to waste more taxpayers' time—we have examples of the opposition requesting FOIs. Does the honourable member want me to include that one as well? I will include the FOI that was requested for information already on the public record in the form of a tabled document—a complete abuse and waste of the public sector's time and money.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: I do not think it is the Hon. Mr Dawkins' turn yet. The Hon. Mr Wade.

 

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