In this legal update we look at the need for NSW Government agencies to update their publication guides in light of the reorganisation of the public service following the March 2011 State election.

Section 20 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) (GIPA Act) requires that agencies (except those listed in Schedule 2) develop and adopt a publication guide as part of their “open access information” that is required to be made publicly available unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of that information (known as “mandatory proactive release”). Access to government information must be provided in accordance with an agency’s publication guide.

Publication guides play an important role in making clear to members of the public the structure and functions of an agency, the ways in which the functions of an agency affect members of the public, the sort of information it holds, what information it makes public and where. The importance of this is underlined by the fact that there may be a varied public face of what is a single agency for GIPA Act purposes; a publication guide allows people to understand where they need to look for information, who it is they need to contact to apply for information, and the process the agency will adopt in response.

By Order under the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002, commencing 4 April 2011, there was a significant reorganisation of the NSW public service. For example, Communities NSW was split up, with the bulk of staff becoming part of the new Department of Education and Communities; the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water became the Office of Environment and Heritage within the Department of Premier and Cabinet; and, Juvenile Justice was moved from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Attorney General and Justice (renamed from Justice and Attorney General).

This reorganisation means many of the publication guides may be out of date.

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) recently wrote to all agencies stating that their publication guides should be reviewed and adopted by 31 July 2011. Section 22 of the GIPA Act requires that agencies notify the Information Commissioner before adopting or amending a publication guide. The OIC has published a Knowledge Update, Good practice for publication guides, which usefully summarises how they should be developed.