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Freedom Of Information (Qld)

Freedom of Information (FOI) law is designed to promote accountable, transparent and responsible government, and in Queensland this law is contained in the Right To Information Act 2009. The Act gives the public the right to access government-held information about themselves or policies, unless the information is classed as exempt or it is contrary to the public interest to allow access.

What information can I access?

A person can access FOI documents held by an agency or a minister that contains personal information, or is used to make policy or administrative decisions.

A “document” is defined as a document that is in the possession or under the control of a government agency, whether created or received by the agency. An “agency” means a department, a local government, a public authority, a government-owned corporation or a subsidiary of a government-owned corporation.

An FOI application can be made online. The Act allows 25 days to process and application, but the agency or minister can ask the applicant for longer.

Access to the document can be granted in several ways, including as hard copy, in electronic form, or as an opportunity to inspect, listen or view (if the document is sounds or images). Access is usually granted for 40 business days after the date of the notice granting access.

The agency or minister has a right to delete information they consider to be exempt information or information the disclosure of which would be contrary to the interests of a person or the public.

Refusal of access

An agency or minister can refuse to deal with an FOI application if they believe the work involved would substantially and unreasonably divert agency resources or interfere substantially and unreasonably with the minister’s functions. The agency or minister must take into account the effort to:

  • identify, locate or collate documents;
  • examine the documents and consult with any third party;
  • make a copy or edited copy of the documents; and
  • notify of any final decision.

Other grounds on which an agency can refuse FOI access include that the document:

  • contains a child’s personal information the disclosure of which would be contrary to the child’s best interests;
  • contains a person’s healthcare information the disclosure of which would be contrary to that person’s mental health or wellbeing;
  • does not exist or cannot be found;
  • can be reasonably accessed in another way.

Exempt information

Schedule 3 of the Act lists documents classed as exempt from FOI under the Act or accessible to the public under other arrangements.

Exemptions can apply to:

  • Cabinet documents;
  • information created to brief ministers;
  • local council budgets;
  • communications between the Queen and her Australian representative;
  • documents where disclosure would be in contempt of parliament or court;
  • documents that are legally privileged;
  • information that is collected in confidence;
  • information that affects state or national security;
  • information that affects law enforcement and public safety;
  • information about investment incentive schemes;
  • information subject to secrecy restrictions (such as taxation, child support, or patent laws).

Public interest

The Act sets out factors to be considered when deciding whether release of an FOI document is in the public interest.

Factors favouring disclosure of information include that disclosure could:

  • promote open discussion of public affairs and government accountability;
  • contribute to positive and informed debate on a matter of public importance;
  • inform the public of government operations, policies, guidelines and codes of conduct in dealing with the public;
  • promote effective oversight of public spending;
  • allow or help investigate deficiencies in the conduct of an agency or official;
  • reveal or substantiate that an agency or official has engaged in misconduct or negligent, improper or unlawful conduct;
  • allow a person to access their own personal information;
  • advance the fair treatment of people or groups in dealing with agencies;
  • reveal the contextual or background information that informed a government decision;
  • reveal that information was incorrect, out of date, misleading, gratuitous, unfairly subjective or irrelevant;
  • protect the environment;
  • reveal environmental or health risks relating to public health and safety.
  • help maintain peace and order;
  • promote procedural fairness;
  • help enforce criminal law;
  • help innovation and facilitate research.

Factors favouring non-disclosure of information include that disclosure could:

  • prejudice the collective responsibility of government or individual politicians;
  • prejudice the private, business, professional, commercial or financial affairs of entities;
  • prejudice the protection of a person’s right to privacy;
  • not be in the best interests of a child;
  • breach the privacy of a dead person;
  • prejudice the fair treatment of a person subject to unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct or negligent, improper or unlawful conduct;
  • prejudice security, law enforcement or public safety;
  • impede the administration of justice, including procedural fairness;
  • prejudice the security or good order of a corrective services facility;
  • impede the protection of the environment;
  • prejudice the Queensland economy;
  • prejudice the flow of information to police or other regulatory body;
  • prejudice relations with other governments;
  • prejudice trade secrets, business affairs or research;
  • hinder an agency’s ability to obtain confidential information;
  • prejudice the effectiveness of testing or auditing procedures.

For advice on FOI, or advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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