Freedom of Information
Freedom of information legislation can assist in the better operation of a democratic system by allowing the public to know the real facts behind government decision making and therefore to vote in an informed way.
Another important reason for having freedom of information legislation is to allow people to have access to, and control of information that is collected about them. Governments are increasingly collecting information about people and making decisions based on that information. Information collected by Government is a resource owned by the people and managed on their behalf by Government. People should be able to obtain access to this resource and to participate in government policy development and decision making. Freedom of information and privacy legislation aims to ensure that the information collected about people by government agencies is accurate and not misused.
After a freedom of information (FOI) request is made, government agencies must decide whether to give access to documents, and whether that access should be partial or full access. An agency does not have to give access to exempted material or where the request will unreasonably divert the agency's resources. To maximise the chances of obtaining access on the first request, some strategies include:
- Try asking for the document before making a formal FOI application. For example ask 'Is there any way I can obtain these documents without having to make a FOI request?'
- Narrow the request so that it is not voluminous. For example, ask to talk to someone in the relevant area about what you want to see, ask to see a list of files on the subject, or ask to see the agency's 'Statement of Affairs' and 'Statement of Categories of Documents held by that Agency'. By obtaining these documents you may be able to reduce the scope of your search.
- If a document is exempt, ask if you can have it with the exempt matter deleted. This will help you get the idea of what the contents are.
- Other tips are outlined in this video by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
- Consult the Ombudsman (SA) or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (Cth) if any response or service is not adequate.
The onus is on the agency to supply a proper reason for an exemption, and where access is refused the applicant can request a precise explanation for the refusal.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.