Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner has announced draft laws to establish an Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) The Minister invited submissions via the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website by 15 May 2009. But unfortunately the invitation did not include a copy of the documents to be commented on, nor any information on how to obtain a copy, making comment difficult.In October 2007 I set the design of a computer system to speed FOI requests as a workshop exercise for students of Electronic Document Management at the Australian National University. The problem is that the volume of material could overwhelm manual FOI processes in the relatively small OIC. A system using XML and web technology could be used to speed the process.
The standards established in the National Archives free open source "XML Electronic Normalising of Archives" (XENA) and "Digital Preservation Recorder" (DPR) software tools could be used to process electronic records extracted from agency systems, such those based on Tower Software's Trim.
The OIC staff could use an online system to coordinate requests with agencies. OIC staff could then automatically check the conformance of agency staff with the new laws.
The CSIRO developed FunnelBack search system has already been interfaced to Trim to allow the searching of records in an agency. This and similar tools should make it possible for agencies to deal with FOI requests. If those requests use a common electronic format across government, it will considerably speed the process, reduce costs and simplify compliance monitoring.