The federal public service should take the initiative in publishing information for people wanting to understand decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia's information commissioner has said.
Head of the Commonwealth agency overseeing freedom of information Angelene Falk said the bureaucracy could take the "preventative" step as the public made more requests for documents amid the coronavirus crisis.
Ms Falk said in an interview on the Institute of Public Administration Australia's podcast Work with Purpose, released on Monday, that the public service had a critical role during the crisis to document and be accountable for its actions.
The Australian Public Service was acting "at speed" and "in different constructs than we've been used to".
"As we come out of the pandemic, it's right that citizens will want to understand the decision making processes of government and that we can use that for reflection and improvement into the future," Ms Falk said.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner had seen more requests for reviews of freedom of information decisions, and also "a number of decisions" that hadn't been processed within time frames required under freedom of information laws.
Ms Falk said the redeployment of staff in government departments and agencies responding to the demands of COVID-19 could be a reason.
"From a preventative perspective I'd encourage all leaders in the APS to be looking at the kinds of information they've generated during this time and thinking about how they might proactively publish that for the benefit of the citizenry, rather than requiring individuals to undertake that pull notion of drawing information from government," she said.
"Let's get on the front foot and put it out proactively."
Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe told the podcast the role of his agency and other accountability bodies was more important during the pandemic.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people who've not previously been coming into contact with various kinds of Australian government services," he said.
"There are all sorts of vulnerable folks in the community dealing with government services and government programs that wasn't the case before."
MORE PUBLIC SERVICE NEWS:
Leaders of Australian federal accountability bodies speaking in the podcast also said a new Commonwealth anti-corruption agency would complement their work.
National auditor-general Grant Hehir said a new federal anti-corruption body would make it easier to identify where to send corruption and fraud matters for investigation.
Mr Hehir was previously the NSW auditor-general and said he had found the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption had not "taken away from" that role.
"Audit offices really aren't investigatory bodies into corruption and fraud," he said.
"And generally when we identify that we try and find the relevant investigatory body to hand it over to and the establishment of an anti-corruption body in the Commonwealth would simply make it easier to identify what that body was."
Asked about the role of preventative action in oversight, Mr Manthorpe said it was important that agencies talked to the people who were going to receive services or programs.
"Most agencies, particularly the big service delivery agencies, have pretty substantial complaint handling functions. And sometimes complaints are confronting, sometimes complaints are uncomfortable," he said.
"But if you don't hear them, if you don't hear the people that are dealing with you and the issues that they're grappling with then there's a risk you're going to make a mistake along the way.
"And whether it's complaints after the fact or whether it's engaging with potential users and customers and citizens during the design phase, it's the same principle."
Mr Hehir said "governance is always your friend" for public service agencies and departments "in dealing with almost any issue".
"Good governance is the best preventative action that someone can put in place," he said.
Effective planning and compliance, and being clear about risks and how to mitigate them, were among the measures needed.
"They aren't new, they're the standard areas that we identify in most of our audits where challenges develop through implementation," Mr Hehir said.
"It's usually through not dealing with the basics."