Australia’s FOI system in continuing crisis, new data shows


Fresh data about the growing backlog in the Commonwealth’s FOI scheme shows a system in continuing crisis that is preventing the public getting access to essential information on how and why the government does what it does.

In response to questioning from Greens Senator David Shoebridge in an estimates hearing last night, the Australian Information Commissioner admitted that there was a growing backlog in the system and provided fresh details of the six year long backlog of FOI review cases.

The data shows that as at 29 February 2024 there were 2,213 outstanding FOI reviews with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. This is a 10% increase in the size of the backlog from 29 February 2023 when there were 2,008 cases in the backlog.

The year-by-year data is even more disturbing showing hundreds and hundreds of cases that have waited years for an FOI review. The Commissioner admitted that the delays included outstanding matters including: 

  • 67 FOI reviews that were lodged in 2019
  • 199 FOI reviews that were lodged in 2020
  • 405 FOI reviews that were lodged in 2021
  • 566 FOI reviews that were lodged in 2022
  • 692 FOI reviews that were lodged in 2023, and
  • 284 FOI reviews that were lodged so far in 2024

Greens Senator and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said: 

“FOI is meant to deliver access to information within a reasonable timeframe - 30 days ideally with some capacity to extend this timeframe where absolutely necessary. 

This data shows that the legal timeframes have no connection to reality, and information can take literally years to be provided, if it is received at all. 

“Labor promised to fix the FOI system but instead delays have lengthened under the Albanese government. 

“I’m genuinely concerned about the increasing culture of secrecy under this Government which is extremely unusual for such a new team in power. 

“You’ve got to ask why they’re failing to take this seriously, do they not recognise the scope of the problem? Or do they simply not care?” Senator Shoebridge said.