The right of any person to access documents held by government agencies, except documents excluded by legislation. A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation. 1982 (Cth)
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (‘FoI Act (Cth)’) creates a legally enforceable right for any person (including legal persons such as corporations and trusts) to obtain information held by Australian Government ministers and most Australian Government agencies. Generally, access to such documents must be granted within 30 days unless the document falls into one of the exemptions or exclusions contained in the FoI Act (Cth) (s 11A).
There are several exemptions to the application of the FoI Act (Cth). For instance, certain specified agencies – such as national Money or property promised to be handed over as a guarantee for repayment of a loan, or as a guarantee that a defendant will meet their bail conditions. agencies (listed in sch 2 pt I) – are not subject to the FoI Act (Cth) (s 7). Further, the FoI Act (Cth) only provides access to an ‘official document of a minister’ (defined in s 4). This means that personal documents, documents of a A person or organisation directly involved in a court case. Parties include the plaintiff or applicant, the defendant, and any third party added to the action, but not independent witnesses. political nature and documents about a minister’s electorate affairs are not subject to A document signed by parties ending a court action. The party who began the action agrees to drop it, often in exchange for a payment by the other party. Also called terms of settlement. under the FoI Act (Cth).
It is not necessary for an applicant to have ‘standing’ of the kind required to succeed with a request under the Administrative Decisions (The court’s review of an administrative decision on the basis of a legal error in the decision-making process. For example, a court can review a decision by an official on the ground that the official is biased. Compare review on the merits. See also administrative act.) Act 1977 (Cth); i.e. an applicant need not demonstrate that their interests are adversely affected by a decision or A finalisation, especially a decision made by a court or tribunal to finalise (determine) a case. . It is also unnecessary for the applicant to provide any reasons for seeking access to documents (s 11(2)).
If an applicant’s request is denied, they may apply for the decision to be reviewed by the Australian Information Commissioner (s 54L) and subsequently to the Administrative Appeals A body set up to hear and decide disputes, usually with less formality and less strict rules of evidence than in a court proceeding. (s 57A) (see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter).
In circumstances where a review is sought, the onus is generally on the party claiming the application of an exemption to prove that the Relevant or important. For example, material evidence is something that helps to prove an argument in a criminal case. ought to be withheld from release (ss 55D, 61).
The purpose of the FoI Act (Cth) is provided in sections 3 and 3A.
Broadly, the FoI Act (Cth) aims to:
- increase community access to information held by the Commonwealth Government by providing a right to access information and by imposing an obligation on government agencies to publish information;
- increase public participation in government decision-making;
- increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the government’s activities; and
- increase recognition that information in the government’s (1) Having control over property. Possession is not the same as ownership. For example, a bicycle you have borrowed from a friend is in your possession but you do not own it. (2) Having illegal drugs on your person or property. is a national resource.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Commonwealth freedom of information laws are overseen and administered by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The OAIC is an independent regulator, led by the Australian Information Commissioner (‘AI Commissioner’).
The OAIC performs various functions in relation to freedom of information and privacy, including:
- overseeing freedom of information in the Commonwealth;
- investigating complaints about the handling of freedom of information requests by agencies;
- promoting awareness of the FoI Act (Cth);
- issuing guidelines;
- undertaking merits review;
- performing administrative duties (e.g. approving extensions of time for agencies to process freedom of information requests); and
- declaring applicants to be Causing trouble without good legal reason. A vexatious litigant repeatedly starts court cases that have no chance of succeeding. Vexatious litigation is a court action that is unnecessary or undertaken only to cause trouble, embarrassment or inconvenience for the other party..
Information Publication Scheme
In addition to granting a right to obtain information, the FoI Act (Cth) also requires government agencies to publish a broad range of information under the Information Publishing Scheme (Pt II FoI Act (Cth)).
The purpose of the Information Publishing Scheme is to promote a pro-disclosure culture across government and to encourage openness and transparency. The scheme does this by creating a freedom of information framework that requires agencies to take an open and proactive approach to publishing information, rather than merely respond to individual requests for access to documents.
Section 8 of the FoI Act (Cth) sets out 10 classes of information to be published under the Information Publication Scheme, including an agency’s plan to comply with the FoI Act (Cth) (s 8(1)), and information about ‘the functions of the agency, including its decision-making powers and other powers affecting members of the public’ (s 8(2)(c)).
There is also a requirement for agencies to publish documents that have been accessed following a request under section 15(2) of the FoI Act (Cth), subject to certain exceptions (s 11C). Publication is to take place within 10 working days of the documents being released to the freedom of information applicant (s 11C(6)). There is no rule about how long such documents are to remain public.
The documents are to be published in redacted form (i.e. edited to obscure information that cannot be disclosed) if applicable and are to include further relevant redactions to protect the personal information or business affairs of the FoI applicant (ss 11C, 22). All government agencies must publish this material on their websites on a page headed ‘Providing information to another person or institution as required by a contract or other legal process. log’.
Contracted Formal delivery of legal documents to a person to tell them there are court proceedings against them which they must defend, or to make sure a witness in a case knows when they have to go to court to give evidence. providers
In addition to government agencies, the FoI Act (Cth) also applies to documents held by contracted service providers that are providing services to the public on behalf of agencies.
Agencies are required to take contractual measures to ensure that documents held by a service provider relating to their performance under the An agreement that the law will enforce. are supplied to the agency if a freedom of information access request is received (s 6C). This requirement applies only to Commonwealth contracts entered into after 1 November 2010 (see s 6C).