Last updated 25 August 2016
Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (Freedom of Information Act), government agencies and ministers must acknowledge receipt of an access to information application in writing within 14 days. If a request is transferred (in full or in part) to another agency, the agency making the transfer must inform the applicant.
The Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (Right to Information Act) does not require a government agency or minister to contact an applicant when a valid application is received or if a request is transferred (in full or in part) to another agency, although sending an acknowledgement letter is considered good practice.
Under both Commonwealth and state legislation, government agencies or ministers are obliged to:
- collect and locate all documents relevant to the request
- consult with any parties (including other government agencies) whose rights may be affected by disclosure
- reach a decision and inform the applicant within specified time limits set in the legislation
- provide reasons if a decision is made to refuse a request for access to information.
Time limits for processing an application
Under s 15(5)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act, the relevant agency or minister has 30 days after it receives a request to take all reasonable steps to notify the applicant of a decision. However, the Australian Information Commissioner may grant an extension of time to the relevant agency or minister to process a request.
Under s 18(1) of the Right to Information Act, the relevant agency or minister has 25 business days to make a decision about an application. However, there are a number of events that stop the clock on the 25-business-day period (s 18(2) Right to Information Act) including:
- the period of time between when an applicant receives a notice of the fee estimate and for processing their request, and when an applicant confirms or amends their application
- when an application is transferred from one government agency or minister to another
- if the applicant agrees to additional time for the agency or minister to consider the application
- if the agency or minister consults a third party likely to be affected by the disclosure of the information for which the applicant seeks access
- if the agency or minister gives a notice to the applicant refusing to deal with the application.
How access is provided
Access may be provided in a number of forms. The most common way is by allowing an applicant a reasonable opportunity to inspect the requested documents and/or providing copies subject to any fees and charges payable. This may include the opportunity to view a:
- film or listen to a sound recording
- written transcript or printout of such media as shorthand notes or dictaphone tapes (s 20 Freedom of Information Act, s 68 Right to Information Act).
Access in a particular form requested by the applicant may be refused where it would unreasonably interfere with the operations of an agency or minister, cause detriment to the preservation of the document or infringe copyright owned by another party. Access must then be given in another form. Charges for providing the material in another form cannot exceed what it would have cost to provide the material in the form requested.