What is covered by freedom of information?
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act):
- allows you to request access to documents held by Australian Government ministers and most agencies
- allows you to request that ministers or agencies amend or annotate any information they hold about you
- establishes an information publication scheme requiring agencies to publish online details about their functions and structure
- allows agencies and ministers to release documents that would be exempt under the FOI Act, unless prevented by a secrecy requirement in another law.
Documents covered by the FOI Act
You have a right of access under the FOI Act to a document held by government unless the document:
- is held by an agency exempt from the FOI Act
- falls under one of the exemptions in the FOI Act
- falls under one of the conditional exemptions in the FOI Act, and releasing the document would be contrary to the public interest
- is accessible to the public under other arrangements, whether at no cost or for a fee or charge.
More information about each of these situations is below. Refer to the Access to documents page for the definition of a document and how the access request process works.
Agencies exempt from the FOI Act
For more information about exempt agencies, see the Who is covered by freedom of information page.
Exemptions and conditional exemptions under the FOI Act
If a document falls under one of the FOI Act’s nine exemptions, an agency or minister can refuse to release it. Some of these exemptions include documents affecting national security, defence or international relations, documents affecting law enforcement and public safety, and Cabinet documents.
The FOI Act also contains eight conditional exemptions. Documents falling under a conditional exemption must be released, unless it would be contrary to the public interest to do so. Some of these conditional exemptions cover documents containing information that affects personal privacy, business information and certain operations of agencies (such as audits, examinations and personnel management).
For more information about exemptions and conditional exemptions, see FOI Fact Sheet 8 — Exemptions.
Documents accessible to the public under other arrangements
The FOI Act does not cover documents that are otherwise accessible to the public. This includes:
- documents available for access under the Archives Act 1983 (Cth)
- documents open to public access subject to a fee or charge
- the library, historical and museum collections of the Australian War Memorial, National Library of Australia, National Museum of Australia, National Archives of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive.