Last updated April 2019
Documents that a Commonwealth Government agency will not release
There are numerous limits on the type of documents that will be released following an access request. Some examples of documents that will not be released include (s 12 Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (Freedom of Information Act)):
- documents already publicly available (e.g. documents that are in public libraries
- documents available under specialised access regimes (e.g. an administrative scheme established in an agency to provide access to specified documents.
Importantly, under the Freedom of Information Act, there are documents on certain topics that are ‘exempt documents’. This means that access to the document is not required to be given by the Act and it will not be released (s 11A(4) Freedom of Information Act).
Exempt documents are those on national security, defence or international relations, Cabinet or Parliamentary Budget Office documents, documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety, documents covered by secrecy provisions, legal professional privilege or documents obtained in confidence, documents where disclosure would be in contempt of parliament or in contempt of a court, documents that disclose trade secrets or commercially valuable information or documents related to the electoral rolls.
It is relevant to note that the exempt categories are not absolute. The Freedom of Information Act provides that no provision in the legislation is intended to prevent or discourage an agency or minister from releasing material if another law gives them power to release the information (s 3A Freedom of Information Act).
Documents that a Commonwealth Government agency may or may not release
Under the Freedom of Information Act, there are types of ‘conditionally exempt documents’ (s 11A(5)). ‘Conditionally exempt documents’ are documents that access must be provided to, unless release of the document would be contrary to the public interest. According to the Freedom of Information Act, conditionally exempt documents include:
- documents regarding relations between the Commonwealth and a state (s 47B)
- documents containing deliberative matter (s 47C)
- documents regarding financial or property interests of the Commonwealth (s 47D)
- documents regarding certain operations of government agencies (s 47E)
- documents containing personal information of a third party (s 47F)
- business documents (s 47G)
- research documents (s 47H)
- documents that, if disclosed, would have a substantial adverse effect on Australia’s economy (s 47J).
Documents that a Queensland Government agency will not release
There are numerous limits on the type of documents that will be released following an access request. Some examples of documents that will not be released include:
- documents that are available by other means
- documents available under specialised access schemes
- exempt documents.
Schedule 3 of the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (Right to Information Act) lists the types of exempt documents. Some examples of exempt documents include:
- matters of the Cabinet or Executive Council
- budgetary information for local governments
- information that, if disclosed, would be contempt of parliament or contempt of court
- information that would not be admissible in legal proceedings because it is covered by legal professional privilege
- information communicated in confidence
- national or state security information
- law enforcement or public safety information (exceptions apply)
- information relating to investment incentive schemes
- any other information where disclosure is prohibited by a law in Queensland.
Similar to the Commonwealth system, the secrecy provision for these exempt categories is not absolute. The Right to Information Act also provides that it does not intend to prevent or discourage an agency or minister from releasing material if it can be done properly or if it is otherwise permitted or required by law (s 4).