What we are talking about here is Freedom of Information legislation. Freedom of information is a vital part of our democracy and I would argue it is one of the reasons democracy works pretty well in Australia – well, better than many other countries.
Governments at all levels are collecting an increasing amount of information about us. Information is a vital resource for governments and assists them in making financial decisions, infrastructure decisions and security decisions to name but a few. This necessitates the need for legislation to make sure the information collected is not only accurate but also not misused.
Freedom of Information applications
Freedom of information (“FOI”) requests should be made to the appropriate government agency. That department then has to decide whether to give access to all of the requested information or only some of the information.
The agency does not have to give access to exempt information, for example if it involves an ongoing police investigation, or to information if the request requires excessive agency resources.
Before making an FOI request you should consider:
- Asking the agency for the information first without an FOI request.
- Keep the request narrow, relevant, and on point.
- Ask the agency what type of documents they keep and/or what documents they may have that are relevant.
- See if the agency has an annual report or website which may contain a list of available documents.
- If the document is exempt ask if the exempt portion can be deleted. This will at least give you an idea as to content.
- There are some useful, if boring, YouTube videos on making FOI requests.
- You can also have a chat with the SA Ombudsman or the Office of Australia Information Commissioner - I have found both very approachable and useful.
If the information is refused, even after an FOI application, ask for written reasons why and follow the appeal process outlined. Don’t give up.
All levels of government (for Australia and South Australia) are guided by the following legislation when FOI requests are made to access information.
Today's blog writer, Dionne Franklin is sharing this knowledge and information as a public interest article.
Keep an eye out over the coming weeks for more specific and targeted articles on this topic.