Requests for access to documents must:
- be in writing;
- state that the request is an application for the purposes of the Act;
- provide such information concerning the document as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency, or the Minister, to identify it; and
- give details of how notices under the Act may be sent to the applicant (for example, by providing an email or postal address).
[Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) s 15(2)]
Some agencies have their own printed application forms that can be used. The application can be sent via email or delivered in person or by post to the agency or Minister [s 15(2A)].
For information on what agencies can charge for search and retrieval of documents, copying, delivery and other charges, see the Office of the Information Commissioner's website, which contains a detailed page on this.
Once a request is received by the agency it must be dealt with as soon as possible, within a maximum of thirty days [s 15]. Agencies have an extra thirty days to reply to requests requiring consultation with another person, business or state or territory government [s 15(6)]. There are a limited number of proper reasons for a department to defer giving access [s 21] (such as, until a document has been presented to Parliament). A document may be supplied with exempt or irrelevant matter deleted [s 22].
If inspection is requested agencies must allow access to a document at their office or at an Information Access Office (National Archives of Australia has appropriate facilities to provide access in the form requested) nearest to where the applicant resides. Applicants are usually given copies of the documents or may ask to inspect the documents [s 20]. If an agency fails to provide the documents in the form requested it is considered to be a refusal to grant access to the documents. Some exceptions apply [s 20(3)].
To make effective use of their rights applicants need to know where to look. To assist people, agencies must publish indices and information in their annual reports outlining the contents of their information systems [ss 8-8E]. Agencies must also periodically publish, and give to anyone who asks, certain types of documents. This includes any documents used by an agency in making decisions or recommendations affecting the rights, privileges or benefits of people under any scheme administered by the agency.
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.