Last updated 20 April 2019

click to download a pdf of this chapterAccess to Information Legislation
Publication of Information by Government Agencies
Office of the Information Commissioner
Accessing Your Personal Information
Making an Application to Access Personal Information
Amending Your Personal Information
Accessing Government Documents
Making an Application to Access Government Documents
How Government Agencies Deal with Freedom of Information and Right to Information Requests
How Government Agencies Provide Information
Documents that may not be Released
Public Interest Test
Appealing a Right to Information or Freedom of Information Decisions

Access to information laws provide members of the public with access to documents held by the government. Access to information legislation only applies to government ministers and agencies (i.e. government departments, statutory bodies and other public sector agencies). It does not apply to private sector bodies such as private hospitals or clinics, insurance companies and other private businesses. Also, some government bodies, especially security and intelligence organisations, are not subject to access to information law.

To create a right to access government-held information, it was necessary for legislation to be passed by parliament. The legislation, at both the federal and Queensland level, requires governments to publish information, grant access to information subject to certain exemptions, which may include consideration of the broader public interest, and also to allow the correction of personal information. The legislation recognises that information held by the government is to be managed for public purposes and is a national resource.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure transparency in government by increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activities and increase public participation in government processes, with a view to promoting better-informed decision making.

Agencies that have been specifically created to assist in the operation of the system are the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (for Commonwealth-held information) and the Office of the Information Commissioner (for Queensland-held information). In addition, each individual Commonwealth and Queensland agency will have a specific freedom/right of information team that can be contacted prior to making a formal request. Contact with the specific agency’s information unit prior to lodging a request for information is strongly recommended as it will help the applicant understand what types of documents are available, how to word a request and, significantly, will provide a realistic guide to what may be released or not, or what parts of the documents may need to be redacted. Contact prior to lodgement can help to generate realistic expectations of the likely outcomes of the process.

In summary, access to information legislation:

  • creates a legally enforceable right of access to documents held by government agencies and ministers, subject to specified limitations and exemptions
  • establishes a system enabling individuals to request correction of their personal information in documents held by government agencies
  • imposes obligations on government agencies to publish and make available information about their functions, structure and processes.