The Tasmanian Health Department took 17 months just to commit to providing data for a Right to Information request after missing deadlines for an acknowledgment and a decision, and not fully adhering to two directions from the state's Ombudsman.
Australian Community Media made a request on June 9 last year for data and departmental communications regarding surgical terminations, or abortions.
Were the state's laws governing Right to Information followed, a decision on releasing or withholding the information should have been provided by mid-August.
But the Health Department did not even acknowledge the request until September 8, and did not respond to numerous follow ups.
In the meantime, a communications officer told ACM that the RTI process did not exist for journalists to "fish for information" and an attempt was made to have the organisation withdraw the request.
In March - nine months after the request was made - an apology was offered and a commitment was made that the request had not been rejected.
Further requests for details on when the matter would be considered were not responded to.
In April, ACM raised the matter with the Ombudsman's Office which contacted the Health Department.
One month later and there was still no further response.
The Ombudsman's Office wrote to the department in June, and then in August a commitment was given that the decision would be completed by August 31.
That date came and went, and so the Ombudsman issued the department an s47 directions letter for the decision to be made by September 18.
That date also came and went, and so a second s47 directions letter was issued to the Health Department for a decision by November 17.
On November 17 - Wednesday this week - ACM was contacted by the Health Department's RTI officer who said the data would be "partially" released, most likely later this month.
Further apologies were offered, and the delay was put down to understaffing, a backlog of requests during the COVID period and an increase in personal information requests as part of the Commission of Inquiry.
A Tasmanian expert on RTI laws said it was not uncommon for Tasmanians to face unnecessary delays in trying to access information, and for departments to fail to adhere to statutory timeframes in making decisions.
University of Tasmania Law School adjunct professor Rick Snell said there was a "creepy tendency" for government agencies to just ignore their statutory obligations, combined with poor resourcing and a "lack of serious political leadership".
"In your application the failure to abide by two s47 directions is an indictment on both the Health Department, its RTI processes and senior management," he said.
"In an ideal world RTIs should be acknowledged within 24 hours, an estimated time of decision should be issued, advice provided as to why any estimate will not be achieved, and agencies should treat the 20 working day deadline as the exception rather than an optional target."
Dr Snell said it was also essential that the Ombudsman was enforcing obligations.
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"The Health Department is not a lone ranger in its abysmal RTI performance - a lacklustre performance that predates COVID - but it is an agency that the Ombudsman should focus on to lift performance and compliance with the RTI Act," he said.
"A first step would be for the Ombudsman to switch it's approach to a proactive and positive role model."
A government spokesperson said the Health Department was recruiting more staff to handle RTI requests.
"We understand there was an error in processing this RTI request which delayed its completion," the government statement reads.
"Resourcing to respond to RTIs is handled operationally by Departments and they are resourced appropriately to do this.
"The Department of Health has already allocated an additional resource for RTI requests, with a further recruitment process currently underway."
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