The top public servant in Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's department has been "properly rapped over the knuckles" after an investigation found eight-month delays in its processing of freedom of information, Senator Rex Patrick says.
There was little justification for the long processing times and the problem would continue to get worse without an intervention, Information Commissioner Angelene Falk found.
The decline in meeting legally-mandated processing times for FOI applications coincided with the department becoming primarily digital, eliminating the creation of paper records. It was also in the process of digitising incoming mail and existing paper records.
Home Affairs launched an online form to assist applicants in 2017 and a year later began using HotDocs software for decision letters and other correspondence.
Since then, the department went from meeting statutory timeframes in 92 per cent of all FOI applications to just 52 per cent. Over the four-year period of the investigation, less than 50 per cent non-personal cases were on time.
Home Affairs employs approximately 75 full-time employees in FOI, but Ms Falk's investigation of 40 cases found 34 of them processed by one specific staff member.
Ms Falk recommended Home Affairs appoint an "information champion" to promote and operationalise compliance with FOI obligations and provide additional training to staff. She was concerned there were not enough staff to deal with non-personal cases.
Home Affairs agreed to implement all the recommendations through its continuous improvement program and has named its chief data officer Steve Davies as the information champion in its senior executive.
Senator Patrick supported the recommendations, saying Home Affairs had a perfunctory approach to FOI. However, he lived in hope department secretary Michael Pezzullo would take his obligations seriously.
"As the principal officer for Home Affairs responsible for FOI, his performance does not meet the expectations and professional responsibilities for the chief executive of a government department," Senator Patrick said.
"I am concerned, based on past exchanges I have had with Mr Pezzullo in the Senate, that he will arrogantly ignore them."
Earlier this week, Ms Falk ordered Home Affairs to pay compensation after breaching the privacy of almost 10,000 asylum seekers.