Last updated 20 April 2019
Commonwealth Government documents
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (Freedom of Information Act) requires the agency or minister to weigh public interest factors for and against disclosure.
Factors that favour release of Commonwealth information are where disclosure would inform debate on a matter of public importance or would promote effective oversight of public expenditure (s 11B(3) Freedom of Information Act).
When considering public interest, the agency or minister must not consider whether the person who created the document was of high seniority within the agency or whether access to the document could result in (s 11B(4) Freedom of Information Act):
- embarrassment to the Commonwealth Government
- loss of confidence in the Commonwealth Government
- any person misinterpreting or misunderstanding the document
- confusion or unnecessary debate.
Queensland Government documents
For most Queensland documents, whether or not access is granted is determined by a statutory public interest test. This requires the agency or minister to weigh public interest factors for and against disclosure. Under Queensland law, the agency or minister needs to identify irrelevant and relevant factors for disclosure and non-disclosure and then balance the relevant factors to make a decision (sch 4 Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld)).
Irrelevant factors include embarrassment to the government, loss of confidence in the government, a reasonable expectation that the applicant would misunderstand the document and whether the person who created the document was of high seniority within the agency.
Factors favouring disclosure in the public interest include where the information release could reasonably be expected to:
- promote open discussion of public affairs
- enhance the government’s accountability
- contribute to the positive and informed debate on important issues or matters of serious interest.
Factors favouring non-disclosure in the public interest include where the release of the information could prejudice the:
- private, business, professional, commercial or financial affairs of an entity
- protection of an individual’s right to privacy.
Other harm factors that the agency or minister may consider include whether the release of information would:
- cause damage to relations with other governments
- affect investigations by ombudsman or auditor-general
- affect operations of agencies.