The sluggishness of Tasmania's Right to Information system has resulted in a Grindelwald man waiting more than three-and-a-half years for a final decision to be made on his request.
Clive Stott, 71, submitted an application for assessed disclosure to Hydro Tasmania on November 2, 2016. He was unsatisfied with the information provided to him on March 8 the following year and so appealed the decision, which was sent to the office of the Tasmanian Ombudsman for review.
To this day, Mr Stott, a former employee of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales, still hasn't had an outcome.
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"These [government] agencies know now that they don't really need to respond to anything because they know that when it gets to the Ombudsman, it's only going to sit," Mr Stott said of the RTI process.
"It is undemocratic. It doesn't allow scrutiny of anything."
Mr Stott's RTI request related to the failure of the Basslink undersea power cable in late 2015, which sparked an energy crisis in the state. He has sought to obtain further information on what caused the fault in the interconnector.
Rick Snell, a freedom of information expert and honourary associate professor at the University of Tasmania, said there was an "almost irresistible temptation" for bureaucrats to obfuscate or deny RTI requests due to the knowledge that they would potentially sit in the Ombudsman's office for years.
"There's time delays [in the RTI system] and, as a consequence, agencies are giving inadequate reasons for decisions," Dr Snell said.
"And there's an inability to effectively ensure the agencies keep to timelines or that agencies do adequate responses to requests."
A Hydro spokesman said information was provided to Mr Stott in 2017 but that some was withheld, either because it was "obtained in confidence" or because Mr Stott's request was "too broad".
Tasmania's track record is poor when it comes to the timeliness of RTI decisions, with the state having previously ranked as the worst performing national jurisdiction in terms of returning decisions within the statutory time-frames set out in legislation.
According to the Ombudsman's 2018-19 annual report, the number of applications received for external review increased by 37 per cent last financial year.
The report noted that "the number of days it takes to finalise and close an external review decision remains a consistent problem".
Tasmanian Ombudsman Richard Connock has in the past expressed a need for additional resourcing to cope with the volume of RTI requests. In the 2019-20 state budget, an additional $245,000 was allocated to the Ombudsman's recurrent funding.
There's time delays and, as a consequence, agencies are giving inadequate reasons for decisions.
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