8. Freedom of information
Since 2009-10, the number of freedom of information (FOI) requests received by the ATO has continued to increase. See figure 8.1. Requests grew significantly following the commencement on 1 November 2010 of the reformed FOI Act 1982, which removed application fees and promoted a pro-disclosure culture across government. It is likely that the removal of application fees and a justifiable perception that a greater range of documents are now available for release has contributed to the increasing trend.
The ATO reports quarterly to the Information Commissioner on its performance in responding to FOI requests, who then reports to Parliament. In 2011-12, there was a sustained, favourable trend in the reduction in on-hand and overdue cases. This is reflected in the last eight months of 2011-12 where all of the ATO's personal and other benchmarks were met, except for January and February, where one of the benchmarks was not met in each month. See figure 8.2.
The ATO does not require taxpayers to make FOI requests for access to routine information, such as copies of returns and payment summaries.
In 2011-12, the ATO spent about $3.3 million on services provided by law firms for 84 FOI requests, of which $1.4 million (42%) was spent on just 5 applicants (counting related companies as one). Over a quarter of the cost ($0.95 million) related to two audit projects, each covering a range of taxpayers engaged in related activities.
Figure 8.1 FOI cases
Figure 8.2 FOI cases within statutory timeframes
Figure 8.3 FOI expenditure