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Chapter Nine — Agency freedom of information

Overview

This chapter has been prepared using data collected from ministers and agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). Ministers and agencies are required to provide, among other details, information about:

  • the number of freedom of information (FOI) requests made to them
  • the number of decisions they made granting, partially granting or refusing access, and the number and outcome of applications for internal review
  • the number and outcome of requests to them to amend personal records
  • charges collected by them.[1]

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) maintains a web-based system for the electronic lodgement of FOI statistical information by agencies. It collects information about agencies' use of exemptions, practical refusal processes, and staff resources and other costs associated with compliance with Information Publication Scheme (IPS) provisions.

The data given by ministers and agencies for the preparation of this annual report is published on the OAIC website.

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Requests for access to documents

Types of FOI requests

The term 'FOI request' means a request for access to documents under s 15 of the FOI Act. Applications for amendment or annotation of personal records under s 48 are dealt with separately below.

The FOI Act requires that agencies and ministers provide access to documents in response to requests that meet the requirements of s 15 of the FOI Act. The figures in this report do not take account of applications that did not satisfy those requirements.

Numbers of FOI requests received

Table 9.1 provides a comparison of the number of FOI requests received in each of the last five reporting years. Chart 9.2 (see later in this chapter) shows the total number of FOI requests received each year since the commencement of the FOI Act in 1982.

Table 9.1 Total FOI requests received 2009–10 to 2013–14
2009–10
2010–11
2011–12
2012–13
2013–14
21,587
23,605
24,764
24,944
28,463

Following the FOI reforms that commenced in November 2010, FOI request numbers have increased, although not to the peak levels experienced in 2003–04. The rate of increase in 2013–14 was the highest since the 2010 reforms. Australian Government agencies received 28,463 FOI requests in 2013–14, up 14.1% on the number received in the previous year. Request numbers increased 9.3% in 2010–11, 4.9% in 2011–12 and 0.7% in 2012–13.

Despite the increase in overall request numbers in 2013–14, some agencies received fewer requests and reported anecdotally a decrease in the complexity of those requests. However, in recent years, the general trend reported anecdotally by agencies is that the number of requests for documents and information, both within and outside the FOI Act, has increased. This may be due in part to greater awareness of the right of access under the FOI Act and of information rights generally following the commencement of the 2010 reforms and the establishment of the OAIC.

Number of FOI requests received by different agencies

In 2013–14, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) together continued to receive the majority of FOI requests (70.2% of the total). Commonly, the bulk of requests to these agencies are from customers or clients seeking access to documents containing their own personal information or case file information.

The top 20 agencies that received the largest number of requests in 2013–14 are shown in Table 9.2, with a comparison to the number of requests each received in 2012–13. The top five agencies in 2013–14 were DIBP, DHS, DVA, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and the Migration Review Tribunal (MRT). These agencies were also the top five in 2012–13, although DVA received the second-highest proportion of requests in 2012–13 but only the third-highest in 2013–14, switching places with DHS.

DIBP's request numbers increased by 2455 in 2013–14 (up 26.1%) and its proportion of the total number of requests received by Australian Government agencies increased from 37.7% in 2012–13 to 41.6% in 2013–14. This included a 24.7% increase in requests for personal information and a 51.8% increase in other requests.

DHS also received 805 more requests in 2013–14 (up 22.2%). However, DVA and the ATO both experienced decreases in the number of requests received (down 13.3% and 12.4% respectively, following decreases of 3.5% and 9.9% in 2012–13) and in their proportions of the total number of requests received by Australian Government agencies.

As noted above, the total number of requests received increased by 14.1% in 2013–14. Among the 20 agencies that received the most FOI requests in 2013–14 — 90.4% of all FOI requests in total — fewer agencies recorded decreases in requests than in 2012–13. For example, in that year, 11 of the top 20 agencies recorded decreases in requests. In 2013–14, only four agencies in the top 20 recorded decreases in requests. The decreases were also smaller than in 2012–13, when the largest decrease was 33.8% (the Attorney-General's Department (AGD)): in 2013–14, the largest decrease among the top 20 was 16.0% (the Trade Marks Office). On the other hand, the largest increase among the top 20 in 2013–14 was 93.9% (the Department of Finance (Finance)); in 2012–13, it was 98.9% (the Australian Postal Corporation).

The three agencies that received the most requests in 2013–14 — DIBP, DHS and DVA — experienced respectively increases of 26.1% and 22.2% and a decrease of 13.3% compared to 2012–13. Some other agencies in the top 20 experienced significant increases in the number of requests received: for example, Finance (the 93.9% increase mentioned above); the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) (82.5%); the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) (73.9%); and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) (72.7%). The only top 20 agencies that reported decreases in request numbers other than DVA were the Trade Marks Office (16.0%); the ATO (12.4%); and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) (5.6%).

Two agencies that appeared in last year's top 20 agencies have experienced significant decreases in their numbers of FOI requests and no longer appear in the top 20: the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (requests decreased by 52.6% in 2013–14) and ComSuper (62.4%).

Another agency in last year's top 20, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), was abolished as part of machinery of government changes in September 2013. DEEWR received 74 requests from July 2013 until it ceased operating, while the Department of Employment (Employment) and the Department of Education (Education) — which were established in September 2013 to perform DEEWR's functions — together received 268 requests in 2013–14. The three agencies collectively received 4.0% more requests than DEEWR received in 2012–13. Employment also appeared in the 2013–14 top 20 in its own right, receiving 157 requests.

Table 9.2 Agencies by numbers of FOI requests received
Agency
Rank 2012–13
Total 2012–13
% of all FOI requests
Rank 2013–14
Total 2013–14
% of all FOI requests
Change Total
Department of Immigration and Border Protection[#]
1
9399
37.7
1
11854
41.6
+2455
Department of Human Services
3
3632
14.6
2
4437
15.6
+805
Department of Veterans' Affairs
2
4245
17.0
3
3681
12.9
−564
Australian Taxation Office
4
877
3.5
4
768
2.7
−109
Migration Review Tribunal
5
554
2.2
5
715
2.5
+161
Refugee Review Tribunal
8
364
1.5
6
633
2.2
+269
Australian Federal Police
6
470
1.9
7
485
1.7
+15
Department of Defence
7
414
1.7
8
433
1.5
+19
Department of Health[#]
11
276
1.1
9
314
1.1
+38
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
17
154
0.6
10
281
1.0
+127
Trade Marks Office
9
332
1.3
11
279
1.0
−53
Attorney-General's Department
13
208
0.8
12
263
0.9
+55
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
12
251
1.0
13
237
0.8
−14
Department of Finance[*]
115
0.5
14
223
0.8
+108
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
19
146
0.6
15
218
0.8
+72
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet[*]
121
0.5
16
209
0.7
+88
Australian Postal Corporation
15
185
0.7
17
207
0.7
+22
Department of the Treasury
20
138
0.6
18
191
0.7
+53
Department of Employment[*][#]
19
157
0.6
Department of Industry[#]
16
164
0.7
20
144
0.5
−20
Total top 20
22,482[^]
90.1
25,729
90.4
+3247
Remaining agencies
2462
9.9
2734
9.6
+272
Total
24,944
100.0
28,463
100.0
+3519

[*] Denotes an agency not listed in the top 20 agencies in 2012–13.

[^] Shows the total for the top 20 agencies in 2012–13 (ie includes figures for three agencies not in the top 20 agencies in 2013–14).

[#] Denotes an agency whose name and/or functions changed in the Administrative Arrangements Order issued on 18 September 2013, or in one case, an agency that was established in that Order. DIBP was formerly the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; the Department of Health (Health) was formerly the Department of Health and Ageing; Finance was previously the Department of Finance and Deregulation; Employment was established to administer some of the functions formerly administered by DEEWR; and the Department of Industry (Industry) was formerly the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

FOI requests for personal information and for other information

Since 2000–01, agencies and ministers have reported separately the number of FOI requests received for documents containing personal information and for documents containing 'other' information. A request for personal information means a request for documents that contain information about a person who can be identified (usually the applicant, though not necessarily). A request for 'other' information means a request for all other documents, such as documents concerning policy development and government decision making.

22,690 (or 79.7%) of all FOI requests in 2013–14 were for documents containing personal information. The percentage of such requests increased slightly from 79.5% in 2012–13, following a decrease from 80.7% in 2011–12 and 82.6% in 2010–11. Some of the decrease since 2010–11 can be attributed to system and process improvements in some larger agencies that have led to the release of personal information outside of the FOI Act.

The increase in the number of FOI requests for other (non-personal) information continued in 2013–14, with a 12.8% increase. This follows a 48.4% increase in 2010–11, a 16.5% increase in 2011–12 and a 7.1% increase in 2012–13. These increases have a significant impact on agencies because non-personal requests typically require more agency resources to process than requests for personal information. Over the past four years, the combined increase in the number of FOI requests for non-personal information has been 108.9%.

Table 9.3 shows the type of requests that the top 20 agencies received in 2013–14 with a comparison to the number of requests each received in 2012–13.

Table 9.3 Types of FOI requests received by agency
Agency
Personal 2012–13
Other 2012–13
Personal 2013–14
Other 2013–14
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
8911
488
11,113
741
Department of Human Services
3512
120
4298
139
Department of Veterans' Affairs
4115
130
3629
52
Australian Taxation Office
357
520
287
481
Migration Review Tribunal
553
1
708
7
Refugee Review Tribunal
343
21
624
9
Australian Federal Police
356
114
360
125
Department of Defence
232
182
212
221
Department of Health
4
272
6
308
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
68
86
115
166
Trade Marks Office
0
332
1
278
Attorney-General's Department
58
150
78
185
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
53
198
26
211
Department of Finance
17
98
13
210
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
51
95
65
153
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
1
120
7
202
Australian Postal Corporation
130
55
163
44
Department of the Treasury
8
130
6
185
Department of Employment
104
53
Department of Industry
88
76
34
110
Total top 20
19,204[^]
3278[^]
21,849
3880
Remaining agencies
623
1839
841
1893
Total
19,827
5117
22,690
5773

[^] Shows the total for the top 20 agencies in 2012–13 (ie includes figures for three agencies not in the top 20 agencies in 2013–14).

FOI requests determined

In 2013–14, agencies and ministers processed FOI requests as follows (previous year figures are in round brackets):

  • on hand at the beginning of the year: 2649 (2411)
  • received during the year: 28,463 (24,944)
  • requiring determination (ie on hand at the beginning of the year or received during the year): 31,112 (27,355)
  • withdrawn: 3190 (2077)
  • transferred: 944 (833)
  • determined (ie access granted in full or in part, or refused): 23,106 (21,764)
  • finalised (ie withdrawn, transferred or determined): 27,240 (24,674)
  • on hand at the end of the year (ie requiring determination but not finalised): 3872 (2681).

Agencies and ministers determined 6.2% more requests, and finalised 10.4% more requests, in 2013–14 than in the previous reporting period.

The number of FOI requests on hand at the end of 2013–14 was 44.4% more than at the end of 2012–13. This increase in the number of requests on hand may reflect the greater proportion of non-personal requests received by agencies in the past year. Such requests may take longer to process and consume more agency resources.

The number of requests transferred to other agencies increased by 13.3% in 2013–14. The number of requests transferred in 2013–14 (944) is the highest since 2010–11 (861). The large number of transfers may be the result of the increase in non-personal requests since the 2010 reforms. An applicant in such a request is more likely (than is an applicant for personal information) to address their request in the first instance to an agency other than the agency that holds the documents they seek. Another contributing factor may be that a higher proportion of such documents relate to joint agency activity.

The 2013–14 increase in transfers may also be due in part to machinery of government changes implemented in the Administrative Arrangements Order issued on 18 September 2013. Where functions transfer from one agency to another, any FOI requests on hand that relate to that function are transferred to the agency receiving the new function. Additional transfers may also be necessary if applicants request documents from one agency that are moved into the possession of another. For example, DEEWR, which was abolished by the September 2013 Administrative Arrangements Order, reported transferring 46 requests in 2013–14, up from 31 in 2012–13. In addition, the agencies established to undertake DEEWR's functions (Employment and Education) reported making 9 and 8 transfers respectively in 2013–14. Taken together, this increase from the 2012–13 DEEWR figure represents 28.8% of the increase in transfers.

The increase in the number of transferred requests has the potential to lead to delays in FOI processing if the transferring agencies fail to quickly action those transfers.

Table 9.4 shows how FOI requests were determined in 2012–13 and 2013–14.

Table 9.4 FOI requests determined
Decision
Total 2012–13
%
Total 2013–14
%
Granted in full
12,459
57.3
12,109
52.4
Granted in part
6995
32.1
7923
34.3
Refused
2310
10.6
3074
13.3
Total
21,764
100.0
23,106
100.0

Table 9.5 shows how FOI requests were determined in 2012–13 and 2013–14, broken into requests for personal and other (non-personal) information.

Table 9.5 Breakdown of type of FOI requests determined
Decisions
Personal 2012–13
Other
2012–13
Personal 2013–14
Other
2013–14
Granted in full
11,366
1093
11,054
1055
Granted in part
5272
1723
6420
1503
Refused
1244
1066
1600
1474
Total
17,882
3882
19,074
4032

The figures for FOI requests that were refused include cases in which the documents sought do not exist or cannot be found, as well as cases in which exemptions have been applied.

In each of the last six reporting years there has been a decrease in the percentage of requests granted in full: 71.0% were granted in 2008–09, 63.8% in 2009–10, 60.9% in 2010–11, 59.1% in 2011–12, 57.3% in 2012–13 and 52.4% in 2013–14. This decrease applies to requests for both personal and for other information.

86.7% of requests were granted in full or in part in 2013–14 (down 2.7%). Apart from a small increase in 2012–13, this continues the general downward trend in the proportion of requests granted in full or in part over recent reporting years: 93.9% were granted in full or in part in 2008–09, 92.5% in 2009–10, 90.6% in 2010–11, 88.4% in 2011–12 and 89.4% in 2012–13.

Table 9.6 lists the top 20 agencies by the number of FOI decisions they made. Employment, Finance and Industry are included on the list of the top 20 agencies in terms of requests received, but not in the top 20 of decisions made. In contrast, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), Comcare and the Department of the Environment feature in the top 20 by decisions made but not by requests received.

Table 9.6 shows significant differences in the outcome of FOI requests between those agencies processing the largest number of requests in 2013–14. In 2012–13, only three of the top 20 refused access to 30% or more of the FOI requests they received. In 2013–14, eight of the agencies in the top 20 refused 30% or more of the FOI requests they received: the Department of the Treasury (the Treasury) (85.3%), PM&C (67.6%), ASIC (62.0%), AGD (54.0%), CASA (39.1%), Health (37.9%) and the AFP (38.3%). The Treasury's refusal rate has increased from 2012–13, when it refused 48.6% of all requests. This increase occurred against a 79.2% increase in the number of requests determined.

Five of the top 20 agencies refused fewer than 10% of the FOI requests they received: the MRT refused 0.6%, DVA 1.2%, the Trade Marks Office 1.5%, the RRT 2.8% and DIBP 8.1%.

Table 9.6 Top 20 agencies by numbers of FOI requests determined
Agency
Granted in full
%
Granted in part
%
Refused
%
Total
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
5895
52.7
4381
39.2
904
8.1
11,180
Department of Veterans' Affairs
3270
97.8
35
1.0
39
1.2
3344
Department of Human Services
858
36.7
1106
47.2
377
16.1
2341
Australian Taxation Office
90
13.2
444
64.9
150
21.9
684
Refugee Review Tribunal
458
84.2
71
13.1
15
2.8
544
Australian Federal Police
32
6.7
265
55.1
184
38.3
481
Migration Review Tribunal
254
71.5
99
27.9
2
0.6
355
Department of Defence
57
20.2
170
60.3
55
19.5
282
Trade Marks Office
126
48.6
129
49.8
4
1.5
259
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
39
18.8
40
19.2
129
62.0
208
Australian Postal Corporation
114
55.3
28
13.6
64
31.1
206
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
25
14.4
105
60.3
44
25.3
174
Department of Health
46
26.4
62
35.6
66
37.9
174
Attorney-General's Department
30
18.6
44
27.3
87
54.0
161
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
32
20.4
86
54.8
39
24.8
157
Department of the Treasury
3
2.3
16
12.4
110
85.3
129
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
43
39.1
24
21.8
43
39.1
110
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
22
20.4
13
12.0
73
67.6
108
Department of the Environment
33
32.4
47
46.1
22
21.6
102
Comcare
25
27.2
40
43.5
27
29.3
92
Top 20
11,452
54.3
7205
34.2
2434
11.5
21,091
Remaining Agencies
657
32.6
718
35.6
640
31.8
2015
Total
12,109
52.4
7923
34.3
3074
13.3
23,106

Use of exemptions

Table 9.7 shows how Australian Government agencies and ministers claimed exemptions under the FOI Act when processing FOI requests in 2013–14. More than one exemption might be applied in processing an FOI request.

Table 9.7 Use of exemptions in FOI decisions
FOI Act reference
Exemption
Personal
Other
Total
%
s 33 Documents affecting national security, defence or international relations
254
202
456
2.0
s 34 Cabinet documents
1
60
61
0.3
s 37 Documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety
1291
194
1485
6.4
s 38 Documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply
355
190
545
2.4
s 42 Documents subject to legal professional privilege
173
115
288
1.2
s 45 Documents containing material obtained in confidence
148
95
243
1.1
s 45A Parliamentary Budget Office documents
0
1
1
0.0
s 46 Documents disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament or contempt of court
7
13
20
0.1
s 47 Documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information
19
107
126
0.5
s 47A Electoral rolls and related documents
7
3
10
0.0
s 47B Commonwealth-State relations
67
66
133
0.6
s 47C Deliberative processes
201
286
487
2.1
s 47D Financial or property interests of the Commonwealth
3
16
19
0.1
s 47E Certain operations of agencies
1223
498
1721
7.4
s 47F Personal privacy
3974
785
4759
20.6
s 47G Business
152
274
426
1.8
s 47H Research
0
1
1
0.0
s 47J The economy
0
2
2
0.0

In 11,255 requests (48.7%), no exemption was claimed by the agency or minister. This is a higher proportion of requests than in 2012–13 (44.7%). The continued decrease in the number of requests granted in 2013–14 means that agencies are generally relying less on exemptions at the same time as they refuse access to a higher proportion of requests. This suggests in turn that agencies are relying increasingly more on other provisions in the FOI Act to refuse access — such as s 24A, which allows agencies to refuse access where the requested documents cannot be found or do not exist, or s 24 where a practical refusal reason exists, discussed in the next section.

The personal privacy exemption in s 47F of the FOI Act remains the most-claimed exemption, being claimed in 20.6% of FOI requests (the same proportion as in 2012–13). The next most-claimed exemptions were s 47E (certain operations of agencies — 7.4%, up from 4.1% in 2012–13), s 37 (documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety — 6.4%), and s 38 (documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply — 2.4%).

Use of practical refusal

Section 24AB of the FOI Act sets out a 'request consultation process' which must be undertaken if a 'practical refusal reason' exists (s 24AA). A practical refusal reason exists if the work involved in processing the FOI request would substantially and unreasonably divert the agency's resources from its other operations, or the FOI request does not adequately identify the documents sought.

The request consultation process involves the agency sending a written notice to the FOI applicant advising them that the agency intends to refuse the request and providing details of how the FOI applicant can consult with the agency. The FOI Act imposes an obligation on the agency to take reasonable steps to help the FOI applicant to revise their request so that the practical refusal reason no longer exists.

Table 9.8 provides information about how Australian Government agencies and ministers engaged in request consultation processes under s 24AB of the FOI Act in 2013–14 and the outcome of those processes.

Table 9.8 Use of practical refusal
Practical refusal processing step
Personal
Other
Total
%
Notified in writing of intention to refuse request
1043
714
1757
Request was subsequently refused or withdrawn
647
532
1179
67.1
Request was subsequently processed
396
182
578
32.9

Agencies sent over twice as many (124.7% more) notices of an intention to refuse a request in 2013–14 than in 2012–13, following on from an increase of 149.0% in 2012–13. In 2013–14, 67.1% of those requests were subsequently refused or withdrawn: the proportion was 81.5% in 2011–12 and 42.7% in 2012–13. This indicates that the request consultation process did not work well in an increasing number of cases, whether because agencies were not giving applicants sufficient information to refine the scope of their requests or because applicants were not willing to refine their request so that it could be processed.

Most of the increase in practical refusal processing in 2013–14 can be attributed to two agencies: DHS and DIBP. In the previous reporting period, DHS and DIBP issued 35 and 202 notices of an intention to refuse a request, respectively; those figures rose to 706 and 400 in 2013–14, an increase of 1917.1% for DHS and 98.0% for DIBP. Together they issued 62.9% of all notices in 2013–14; and 30.3% of all notices in 2012–13. DHS showed the sharpest proportional increase, issuing 40.2% of all notices in 2013–14, compared to 4.5% in 2012–13. DIBP also advised the OAIC that it was unable to provide full statistics about its use of the practical refusal mechanism in 2013–14, meaning that DIBP may have sent more notices than it reported.

In 2013–14, agencies sent more notices of an intention to refuse a request for personal information. These notices comprised 59.4% of the total number of notices, compared to 40.4% in 2012–13. Again, much of the increase can be attributed to DHS and DIBP, which together issued 88.4% of all notices that were issued for personal information requests (with DHS issuing 64.4%).

There was also a decrease in the number of personal information requests that were subsequently processed following the request consultation process. In 2012–13, 59.5% of personal requests were processed following the request consultation process. This number fell to 38.0% in 2013–14. There was a similar fall in the number of other requests that were subsequently processed: from 55.8% in 2012–13 to 25.5% in 2013–14.

Time taken to respond to FOI requests

As a starting point, once an FOI request has been received, an agency or minister has 30 days within which to make a decision under the FOI Act. The FOI Act allows for the extension of that statutory timeframe in certain circumstances. If a decision is not made on a request within the statutory timeframe (as extended, if applicable) then s 15AC of the FOI Act provides that a decision refusing access is deemed to have been made. Nonetheless, agencies can and are encouraged to continue to process a request that has been deemed to have been refused. If an applicant seeks an Information Commissioner review (IC review) of a deemed decision, s 55G provides that the agency can only make a substituted decision that is more favourable to the applicant while that IC review is under way.

An agency may extend the period of time to make a decision by agreement with the applicant (s 15AA), or to undertake consultation with a third party (ss 15(6)–(8)). An agency can also apply to the Information Commissioner for more time to process a request when the request is complex or voluminous (s 15AB), or when access has been deemed to be refused (s 15AC or s 51DA) or affirmed on internal review (s 54D). These extension provisions acknowledge that there are circumstances when it is appropriate for an agency to take more than 30 days to process a request.

When an agency has obtained an extension of time to deal with an FOI request, and resolves the request within the extended time period, the request is recorded as having been determined within the statutory time period. Table 9.9 shows the response times for all agencies and ministers for 2012–13 and 2013–14.

Table 9.10 shows response times separately for personal and other requests in 2012–13 and 2013–14. In 2013–14, 95.8% of all FOI requests determined were processed within the applicable statutory time period: 96.9% of all personal information requests and 90.4% of non-personal requests. This is an improvement in response time from 2011–12 (88.5%) and 2012–13 (85.6%). While this improvement is welcome, it should be considered alongside the increase in the numbers of access refusal decisions in 2013–14 compared to previous years (see above).

Table 9.9 Response times — FOI requests
Response time
Total 2012–13
%
Total 2013–14
%
Within applicable statutory time period
18,622
85.6
22,132
95.8
Up to 30 days over applicable statutory time period
2107
9.7
557
2.4
31–60 days over applicable statutory time period
457
2.1
234
1.0
61–90 days over applicable statutory time period
230
1.1
98
0.4
More than 90 days over applicable statutory time period
348
1.6
85
0.4
Total
21,764
100.0
23,106
100.0
Table 9.10 Response times broken down by personal and other
Response time
Personal 2012–13
Other 2012–13
Personal 2013–14
Other 2013–14
Within applicable statutory time period
15,441
3181
18,488
3644
Up to 30 days over applicable statutory time period
1807
300
348
209
31–60 days over applicable statutory time period
293
164
128
106
61–90 days over applicable statutory time period
139
91
65
33
More than 90 days over applicable statutory time period
202
146
45
40
Total
17,882
3882
19,074
4032

Table 9.11 shows those agencies and ministers that, in 2013–14, had one or more FOI requests that took more than 90 days to finalise beyond the applicable statutory time period.

Three agencies took longer than 90 days after the applicable statutory period had expired to process more than 5% of their FOI requests (down from eight agencies in 2012–13). The AFP and DIBP both received and determined more requests in 2013–14 than in 2012–13, but experienced significant decreases in the number of requests taking more than 90 days to process (a decrease of 40.4% and 91.1% respectively).

Table 9.11 Response times greater than 90 days after the expiry of the applicable statutory period 2013–14
Agency
Total requests determined
Requests determined more than 90 days after statutory period
% of total
Australian Federal Police
481
40
8.3
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
11,180
19
0.2
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
157
10
6.4
Australian Taxation Office
684
4
0.6
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
110
3
2.7
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
108
3
2.8
Department of Industry
82
2
2.4
Attorney-General's Department
161
1
0.6
Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions
51
1
2.0
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
25
1
4.0
National Disability Insurance Agency
8
1
12.5

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Applications for amendment of personal records

Section 48 of the FOI Act confers a right on a person to apply to an agency or to a minister to amend a document, to which lawful access has been granted, where the document contains personal information about the applicant:

  • that is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading, and
  • that has been used, is being used, or is available for use by the agency or Minister for an administrative purpose.

In 2013–14, 2891 amendment applications were received by agencies (none were received by ministers). This is a 1.3% increase from 2012–13, following decreases of 26.4% in 2009–10, 20.0% in 2010–11, 5.0% in 2011–12, and 18.9% in 2012–13. Only eight agencies received applications for amendment in 2013–14. One agency, DIBP, received 2860 amendment applications (98.9% of the total).

3303 amendment applications were determined in 2013–14. This is 410 more than in 2012–13 (up 14.2%). Table 9.12 compares the decision making for amendment applications for the last four reporting periods. In 2013–14, a decision to amend or annotate a person's personal record was made in 68.1% of the determined applications, a smaller proportion than in 2010–11 (77.4%), 2011–12 (73.0%) and 2012–13 (72.9%).

Table 9.12 Determination of amendment applications
Decision
2010–11
%
2011–12
%
2012–13
%
2013–14
%
Requests granted: amend record
2367
64.1
1884
52.9
1873
64.7
2040
61.8
Requests granted: annotate record
487
13.2
717
20.1
236
8.2
208
6.3
Requests granted: amend and annotate record
2
0.1
2
0.0
1
0.0
0
0.0
Requests refused
836
22.6
961
27.0
783
27.1
1055
31.9
Total decided
3692
100
3564
100
2893
100
3303
100

Time taken to respond to amendment applications

An agency is required to notify an applicant of a decision on their application to amend personal records as soon as practicable, but in any case not later than 30 days after the date the request is received, or a longer period as extended under the FOI Act.

In 2013–14, 87.5% of amendment applications were decided within the statutory time period. This is a decrease from 2012–13 (96.7%). All of the 19 applications not processed within the statutory time period were applications filed with DIBP. This is an improvement from 2012–13, when DIBP did not process 93 applications within the statutory time period.

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Charges

Under the Freedom of Information (Charges) Regulations 1982 (Charges Regulations), FOI charges apply only to an initial access decision under Part III of the FOI Act. There is no charge for making an application:

  • for access to a document under s 15
  • for amendment or annotation of a personal record under s 48
  • for internal review of a decision under s 54 or s 54A
  • for IC review of a decision under s 54L or s 54M.

A fee is payable for an application to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for review of a decision under Part VIIA of the FOI Act.

Section 29 of the FOI Act provides for an agency or Minister to impose charges in respect of FOI requests, and the process by which they are assessed, notified and adjusted. The applicant must be given notice in writing when an agency or minister decides under the Charges Regulations that the applicant is liable to pay a charge. The notice must specify that the applicant is liable to pay a charge, the preliminary assessment of the charge to be paid, the basis of calculation and the applicant's right to contend that the charge has been wrongly assessed or should be reduced or waived.

Charges that agencies can impose for processing FOI requests include charges for search and retrieval time, decision making, retrieving and collating electronic information, preparing transcripts and photocopying. An agency or minister has a discretion to impose or not impose a charge, or impose a charge that is lower than the applicable charge under reg 3 of the Charges Regulations.

The applicant must, within 30 days, or such further period allowed by the agency, agree to pay the charge, dispute the charge, seek a waiver or reduction, or withdraw the FOI request. When an applicant asks that the charge be reduced or not imposed, the agency must consider the applicant's reasons and may decide to reduce the charge or to not impose it.

Table 9.13 shows the amounts collected by the 20 agencies that collected the most in charges under the FOI Act in 2013–14. These top 20 agencies collected 85.0% of all charges collected by Australian Government agencies and ministers under the FOI Act during that period.

Table 9.13 Top 20 agencies by charges collected
Agency
Requests received
Requests where charges notified
Total charges notified
Total charges collected
Department of Health
314
124
$96,177
$53,199
Department of Agriculture
79
41
$33,210
$19,827
Trade Marks Office
279
159
$30,327
$13,516
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
122
3372
$18,402
$12,995
Department of Finance
223
134
$54,399
$10,103
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority
73
72
$11,480
$9,496
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
106
43
$45,035
$9,138
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
281
62
$32,810
$8,323
Australian Taxation Office
768
50
$16,816
$8,163
Department of the Environment
128
25
$20,051
$7,991
Department of Defence
433
110
$46,065
$7,701
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
11854
107
$29,888
$7,160
Department of Veterans' Affairs
3681
84
$6,445
$5,910
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
16
14
$13,165
$5,730
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
26
11
$5,313
$5,212
Department of the Treasury
191
40
$12,990
$5,019
Department of Human Services
4437
66
$15,833
$4,244
Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate
2
1
$3,750
$3,750
Department of Employment
157
30
$8,412
$3,182
Clean Energy Regulator
15
6
$6,212
$3,004
Top 20
23,185
4551
$506,780
$203,663
Remaining agencies
5278
406
$227,982
$35,965
Total
28,463
4957
$734,762
$239,628

In 2013–14, agencies notified a total of $734,762 in charges, with respect to 4957 requests, but collected only $239,628 (32.6%) of those charges. This difference is due to agencies exercising their discretion under s 29 of the FOI Act not to impose the whole charge, or applicants deciding to withdraw an application and not pay the notified charge.

Agencies notified and collected slightly more in charges in 2013–14 than in the previous year. In 2012–13, agencies notified a total of $703,755 in charges, with respect to 1296 requests, and collected $236,754. The percentage increase in the notification and collection amounts for 2013–14 were 4.4% and 1.2%, respectively.

Charges collected, as a proportion of the total cost of administering the FOI Act, remained stable compared to 2012–13. In 2013–14, charges collected represented 0.6% of the total cost of administering the Act. In 2009–10, 1.9%; in 2010–11,[2] 1.7%; in 2011–12, 1.0%; and in 2012–13, 0.5%. (See below for details of the cost of administering the FOI Act.)

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Disclosure log

As explained in Chapter Eight, all Australian Government agencies and ministers that are subject to the FOI Act are required to maintain an FOI disclosure log on their website. The disclosure log lists information that has been released to FOI applicants, subject to some exceptions (such as personal information).

Information was collected for the second time in 2013–14 from agencies and ministers on disclosure log activity. A total of 109 agencies and ministers provided information (down from 118 in 2012–13). Collectively, they reported 1197 documents listed on disclosure logs; this included 823 documents that could be downloaded from the agency's or minister's website, 23 documents from another website, and in 351 instances the agency or minister made the documents available by another means (usually upon request).

In total, 8.6% fewer entries were published on disclosure logs in 2013–14 than in 2012–13. The 2.7% fall in full or partial access grant decisions in 2013–14 would have been one reason for this decrease. Nonetheless, agencies and ministers published a proportionally smaller amount of disclosure log entries compared to full or partial access grant decisions made: a disclosure log entry was published following 6.0% of full or partial access decisions, down from 6.7% in 2012–13.

Agencies and ministers also reported a total of 75,705 unique visits to disclosure log and 397,349 page views, respective decreases of 22.0% and 55.8% compared to 2012–13. This may in part reflect that only 58 agencies and ministers provided data about visits and/or page views in 2013–14, down from 75 in 2012–13.

OAIC disclosure log

During 2013–14, four entries were added to the OAIC's own disclosure log. These entries, including copies of the released documents, can be found on the OAIC website.

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Review of FOI decisions

Under the FOI Act, an applicant who is dissatisfied with the decision of a minister or an agency on their initial FOI request has several avenues for review or redress. The applicant can first seek internal review, then external merits review by the Information Commissioner (IC review), then review by the AAT, then appeal, on a question of law, to the Federal Court or the High Court. In addition, an applicant may make a complaint at any time to the Information Commissioner about an agency's actions under the FOI Act.

Third parties that have been consulted in the FOI process also have review rights if an agency decides to release documents contrary to their submissions. Consultation requirements apply for state governments (ss 26A and 26AA), the Australian Government in relation to FOI requests made to a Norfolk Island authority (s 26AA), commercial organisations (s 27) and private individuals (s 27A).

Section 23 of the FOI Act provides that decisions on requests made to an agency can be made by the responsible minister or the principal officer of that agency, or by authorised officers of the agency. There is no express power in the FOI Act for a minister to authorise another person to make a decision on an FOI request received by the minister. The Information Commissioner's view is that it is nevertheless open to a minister to authorise members of the minister's staff or of an agency to make such decisions.

Internal review

A person who is dissatisfied with an agency's access refusal or access grant decision can apply either for internal review or IC review of that decision. Internal review is not available if the initial decision maker is the responsible minister or the principal officer of the agency. Although there is no requirement to do so, the Information Commissioner recommends that a person apply for internal review (if available) before applying for IC review.

Internal review is a merits review process. The internal review officer can decide all issues raised by an applicant's FOI request, and exercise all the powers available to the original decision maker. The internal review officer may rely on work undertaken by the original decision maker, or may cause the same work to be undertaken again. All the material available to the original decision maker should be available to the internal review officer. The internal review officer may consider additional material and submissions not considered by the original decision maker.

In 2013–14, 596 applications were made for internal review of FOI decisions: 16.6% more than in 2012–13. Of the 596 applications for internal review, 312 (52.3%) were for review of decisions on requests for personal information and 284 (47.7%) were for review of decisions on other (non-personal) requests.

Agencies finalised 542 decisions on internal review in 2013–14: 11.8% more than were made in 2012–13. Of these, 297 (54.8%) affirmed the original decision, 49 (9.0%) set aside the original decision and granted access in full, 138 (25.5%) granted access in part, five granted access after deferment (0.9%), six (1.1%) granted access in another form, ten (1.8%) resulted in lesser access and applicants withdrew 26 applications (4.8%) without concession by the agency. Agencies reduced the charges levied as a result of internal review in 11 cases (2.0%).

There were 56 applications for internal review of decisions on amendment applications, 20 (26.3%) fewer than in 2012–13. Agencies made 78 of these internal review decisions: in 58 cases (74.4%) the original decision was affirmed; in 20 cases, it was set aside.

Information Commissioner review

Table 9.14 provides a breakdown by agency and minister of IC review applications received in 2013–14, where the agency or minister was the subject of more than one IC review. In total, there were 524 applications for IC review (up 3.4%).

Table 9.14 Information Commissioner review where the agency/minister was the subject of more than one IC review
Agency/minister
Access refusal decisions
Access grant decisions
Invalid or no jurisdiction
Total
Department of Human Services
92
0
3
95
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
72
0
4
76
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
41
0
1
42
Australian Federal Police
28
1
2
31
Australian Taxation Office
29
0
1
30
Department of Defence
19
1
0
20
Department of Veterans' Affairs
16
0
0
16
Attorney-General's Department
13
0
0
13
Department of the Treasury
13
0
0
13
Commonwealth Ombudsman
10
0
0
10
Australian Postal Corporation
9
0
1
10
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
8
0
0
8
Department of Health
7
0
1
8
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
7
0
0
7
Department of Education
7
0
0
7
Attorney-General
7
0
0
7
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
7
0
0
7
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
6
1
0
7
Department of the Environment
6
 
0
6
Department of Social Services
5
1
0
6
Australian Electoral Commission
4
2
0
6
Tax Practitioners Board
4
0
0
4
Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
0
0
4
4
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
3
1
0
4
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
3
0
0
3
Australian Prudential Regulation Authority
3
0
0
3
Australian Skills Quality Authority
3
0
0
3
Department of Agriculture
2
1
0
3
The Australian National University
2
0
0
2
Australian Trade Commission
2
0
0
2
Comcare
2
0
0
2
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
2
0
0
2
Department of Employment
2
0
0
2
Department of Industry
2
0
0
2
Family Court of Australia
2
0
0
2
Infrastructure Australia
2
0
0
2
Minister for Foreign Affairs
2
0
0
2
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
2
0
0
2
National Gallery of Australia
2
0
0
2
Private Health Insurance Ombudsman
2
0
0
2
Special Broadcasting Service Corporation
2
0
0
2
Department of Finance
0
2
0
2
Airservices Australia
1
1
0
2
Australian Human Rights Commission
1
1
0
2
Subtotal
452
12
17
481
Remaining agencies/ministers
36
2
5
43
Total
488
14
22
524

Generally speaking, the agencies about which the most IC review applications were made were those that received the largest number of FOI requests in 2013–14. Twenty or more IC review applications were made about each of four agencies: DHS, DIBP, ASIC, the AFP and the ATO. Each of those agencies is in the top 20 agencies in terms of FOI requests received.

There are only three agencies in the top 20 agencies by FOI requests received about which no IC review applications were received in 2013–14: the MRT, the RRT and the Trade Marks Office.

Agencies that did not receive large numbers of applications, but about which the OAIC received a comparatively large number of IC review applications in 2013–14, include the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (1 request, 2 IC reviews), the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport (2 requests, 2 IC reviews), the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (4 requests, 2 IC reviews), the Tax Practitioners Board (17 requests, 4 IC reviews), Infrastructure Australia (13 requests, 2 IC reviews), the Australian Electoral Commission (43 requests, 6 IC reviews), the Commonwealth Ombudsman (72 requests, 10 IC reviews), the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (14 requests, 2 IC reviews) and the National Gallery of Australia (14 requests, 2 IC reviews).

Information about the Information Commissioner's handling of IC reviews is given in Chapter Eight.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal review

An application can be made to the AAT for review of the following FOI decisions:

  • a decision of the Information Commissioner on an IC review
  • an IC reviewable decision (that is, an original decision or an internal review decision), but only if the Information Commissioner decides, under s 54W(b), that the interests of the administration of the FOI Act make it desirable that the IC reviewable decision be considered by the AAT.

An application for the review of one of these decisions may be made by a person whose interests are affected by the decision.[3] The fee for an application to the AAT increases on each biennial anniversary of 1 July 1996, based on a calculation related to the Consumer Price Index. The fee during the reporting period was $816.[4]

As with IC review, the AAT conducts a merits review process. The AAT's decisions are appealable to the Federal Court of Australia, but only on a question of law.

Chart 9.1 shows the number of applications for review of FOI decisions received by the AAT since 1983–84, based on data provided in previous OAIC annual reports and earlier FOI annual reports.

Chart 9.1 shows that 35 FOI decisions were appealed to the AAT in 2013–14. This is less than the 42 decisions appealed in 2012–13, but still substantially more than the 20 decisions appealed in 2011–12. The low number of appeals in 2011–12 was due to that year being a 'transition year', during which all external merits review of decisions made on FOI requests lay first with the Information Commissioner. Before November 2010, external merits review lay with the AAT alone.

Chart 9.1 Applications for review of FOI decisions received by the AAT since 1983–84

Bar graph showing applications for review of FOI decisions received by the AAT from 1983 to 2014. Link to long text description follows image.

Chart 9.1 Long text description

Table 9.15 provides a breakdown by agency of applications to the AAT in FOI matters in 2013–14. This data has been provided by the AAT.

Table 9.15 AAT review by agency
Agency
Applications
% of total applications
Australian Accounting Standards Board
1
2.9
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
1
2.9
Australian Electoral Commission
1
2.9
Australian Federal Police
2
5.7
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
1
2.9
Australian War Memorial
1
2.9
Bureau of Meteorology
1
2.9
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
1
2.9
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
1
2.9
Department of Human Services
11
31.4
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
5
14.3
Department of Social Services
2
5.7
Department of Veterans' Affairs
1
2.9
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
2
5.7
Repatriation Medical Authority
1
2.9
Takeovers Panel
1
2.9
The Treasury
1
2.9
Out of jurisdiction
1
2.9
Total
35
100.0

Table 9.16 shows the outcome of the 35 FOI appeals finalised by the AAT in 2013–14. This data has been provided by the AAT.

Table 9.16 Outcomes of FOI appeals finalised by the AAT in 2013–14
AAT Outcomes
Number
Affirmed by consent/withdrawn
0
Set aside by consent/withdrawn
5
Varied by consent/withdrawn
0
Dismissed by consent/withdrawn
2
Withdrawn by consent/withdrawn
10
Affirmed by decision
2
Set aside by decision
5
Varied by decision
0
Dismissed by AAT
11
No application fee paid
0
Extension of time refused
0

Of the 35 FOI appeals finalised by the AAT, seven (20%) resulted in a decision. The AAT affirmed the agency's decision in two (28.6%) of those reviews, compared with 33.3% in 2012–13.

Three of the FOI appeals decided by the AAT in 2013–14 were appeals from IC review decisions. On 31 July 2013, in Lee and Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2013] AATA 532, the AAT affirmed the FOI Commissioner's decision in 'O' and Department of Immigration and Citizenship [2012] AICmr 27. On 16 August 2013, in Pangilinan and Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship [2013] AATA 574, the AAT varied the Privacy Commissioner's decision in 'R' and Department of Immigration and Citizenship [2012] AICmr 32 to reflect DIBP's release at the hearing of documents over which the Department had previously claimed exemptions. On 20 December 2013, in Nikjoo and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2013] AATA 921, the AAT varied the Privacy Commissioner's decision in 'B' and Department of Immigration and Citizenship [2013] AICmr 9 to refuse access to some of the requested documents under s 45 (material obtained in confidence) by instead refusing access on the ground that the documents in question were irrelevant to the applicant's request (s 22).

Federal Circuit Court of Australia appeals

On 5 February 2014, in Pangilinan and Secretary of the Department of Immigration [2014] FCCA 294, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia dismissed an appeal from the AAT's decision in Pangilinan and Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship [2013] AATA 574 (discussed above).

High Court of Australia appeals

On 6 December 2013, in Kline v Official Secretary to the Governor-General [2013] HCA 52, the High Court of Australia dismissed an appeal from the Full Court of the Federal Court's decision in Kline and Official Secretary to the Governor-General [2012] FCAFC 184, which had affirmed the AAT's decision in Kline and Official Secretary to the Governor-General [2012] AATA 247, which in turn had affirmed the FOI Commissioner's decision in 'B' and Official Secretary to the Governor-General [2011] AICmr 6.

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Complaints about agency FOI actions

Complaints to the Information Commissioner

Information about the Information Commissioner's handling of FOI complaints is given in Chapter Eight.

Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman

Complaints about agencies' handling of FOI requests are primarily dealt with by the OAIC. The Commonwealth Ombudsman may investigate FOI complaints when it would be more appropriate or effective for example, when the FOI complaint is one part of a wider grievance about an agency's actions.

In 2013–14, the Commonwealth Ombudsman received 45 complaints about FOI matters, 9.8% more than the 41 it received in the previous year.[5] The Commonwealth Ombudsman transferred four complaints to the OAIC under s 6C of the Ombudsman Act 1976 during 2013–14. The Ombudsman did not investigate any FOI complaints in 2013–14.

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Impact of FOI on agency resources

To assess the impact on agency resources of their compliance with the FOI Act, agencies are required to estimate the hours that staff spent on FOI matters and the non-labour costs directly attributable to FOI, such as training and legal costs. Agencies submit these estimates annually. Experience shows that agencies rarely keep exact records of hours spent by officers on FOI matters and other non-labour costs incurred. Agency estimates may also include FOI processing work undertaken on behalf of a minister's office.

For the third year, agencies have also reported on their costs of compliance with the IPS. To facilitate comparison with the information in previous annual reports, those IPS costs are not included in this analysis of the cost of agency compliance with the FOI Act, but are discussed separately below.

The total reported cost attributable to the FOI Act in 2013–14 was $41.837 million, a decrease of 7.5% on the previous year's total of $45.231 million. This decrease occurred despite an increase of 6.2% in requests determined, and an increase of 10.4% in requests finalised, over the same period. Total yearly FOI costs since the commencement of the FOI Act are shown in Table 9.17.[6]

Table 9.17 Comparative total yearly cost of FOI
Year
Total cost
Year
Total cost
Year
Total cost
1982–83[*]
$7,502,355
1993–94
$13,977,360
2004–05
$22,860,022
1983–84
$15,106,511
1994–95
$11,955,482
2005–06
$24,903,771
1984–85
$16,496,961
1995–96
$14,564,562
2006–07
$24,936,178
1985–86
$15,711,889
1996–97
$15,972,950
2007–08
$29,474,653
1986–87
$13,336,864
1997–98
$12,191,478
2008–09
$30,358,484
1987–88
$11,506,931
1998–99
$13,066,029
2009–10
$27,484,129
1988–89
$10,494,376
1999–00
$14,035,394
2010–11
$36,318,030
1989–90
$10,373,321
2000–01
$14,415,406
2011–12
$41,718,803
1990–91
$9,921,772
2001–02
$17,387,088
2012–13
$45,231,147
1991–92
$12,723,097
2002–03
$18,398,181
2013–14
$41,836,685
1992–93
$12,702,329
2003–04
$20,189,136
   

[*] Seven months only.

Table 9.18 sets out the average cost per FOI request determined (granted in full, in part or refused) for the last 10 years. The average cost per request determined in 2013–14 was $1811 (down 12.8%).

Table 9.18 Average cost per request for last 10 years
Year
Requests determined
Total cost
Average cost per request determined
2004–05
36,827
$22,860,022
$621
2005–06
38,987
$24,903,771
$639
2006–07
34,158
$24,936,178
$730
2007–08
31,367
$29,474,653
$940
2008–09
25,139
$30,358,484
$1208
2009–10
19,583
$27,484,129
$1403
2010–11
20,187
$36,318,030
$1799
2011–12
22,237
$41,718,803
$1876
2012–13
21,764
$45,231,147
$2078
2013–14
23,106
$41,836,685
$1811

Chart 9.2 shows the relationship between FOI costs and the number of FOI requests received for each year since 1982–83. Between 1 December 1982 (the date the FOI Act commenced) and 30 June 2014, Australian Government agencies and ministers have received 984,810 FOI requests. It is likely that the one millionth such request will be received during 2014–15.

Chart 9.2 FOI costs in relation to number of requests received

Bar graph showing FOI costs and line graph showing number of FOI requests received from 1982 to 2014. Link to long text description follows image.

Chart 9.2 Long text description

Staff costs

All agencies are required to supply information about staff resources allocated to FOI. This information includes:

  • the number of staff who spent 75% or more of their time on FOI work
  • the number of staff who spent less than 75% of their time on such work.

This covers all facets of agencies' processing FOI requests, including:

  • search and retrieval
  • consultation with third parties
  • decision making
  • internal review
  • FOI processing work for a minister's office.

Totals of FOI staffing across all Australian Government agencies for 2010–11, 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013–14 are shown in Table 9.19.

Table 9.19 Total FOI staffing for years 2010–11 to 2013–14
Staffing
2010–11
2011–12
2012–13
2013–14
Staff numbers: 75–100% time spent on FOI matters
213[*]
249
284
287
Staff numbers: less than 75% time spent on FOI matters
2431[*]
3722
3546
3623
Total staff hours
511,986
576,824
638,466
630,936
Total staff years
256.0
288.4
319.2
315.5

[*] Staff numbers for 2010–11 are a weighted average of numbers for the period before the commencement of the FOI reforms (1 July 2010 to 31 October 2010) and for the period afterwards (1 November 2010 to 30 June 2011).

Agencies provided estimates of the number of staff hours spent on FOI to enable calculation of salary costs (and 60% related costs) directly attributable to FOI. A summary of staff costs is provided in Table 9.20, based on information provided by agencies and the following median base annual salaries:[7]

  • FOI contact officer (officers whose duties included FOI work) $ 74,331[8]
  • other officers involved in processing requests
    • Senior Executive Service (SES) officers (or equivalent) $178,330[9]
    • APS Level 6 and Executive Levels (EL) 1–2 $108,013[10]
    • Australian Public Service (APS) Levels 1–5 $ 61,512[11]
  • Minister's office
    • Minister and advisers $133,777[12]
    • Minister's support staff $ 61,512[13]
Table 9.20 Estimated staff costs of FOI for 2013–14
Type of staff
Staff years
Salary costs
Related costs (60%)
Total staff costs
FOI contact officers
240.3
$17,864,787
$10,718,872
$28,583,659
SES
6.6
$1,178,226
$706,936
$1,885,162
APS Level 6 and EL 1–2
35.4
$3,823,012
$2,293,807
$6,116,819
APS Levels 1–5
32.2
$1,980,471
$1,188,283
$3,168,754
Minister and advisers
0.7
$96,788
$58,073
$154,860
Minister's support staff
0.2
$12,761
$7,603
$20,274
Total
315.5
$24,955,956
$14,973,573
$39,929,529

Total estimated staff costs in 2013–14 were $39.930 million, 0.5% more than in the previous year. By contrast, in 2012–13, total estimated staff costs rose by 17.3%.

Non-labour costs

Non-labour costs directly attributable to FOI are summarised in Table 9.21 including the percentage change between 2012–13 and 2013–14. The total in 2013–14 was $1.907 million, 65.4% less than in the previous year.

As in 2012–13, the largest decrease in 2013–14 was in legal costs, which may indicate that agencies are increasingly undertaking legal work in-house. Training costs decreased by 55.5% in 2013–14 (following a 23.8% decrease in 2012–13). This was presumably due to a continuing reduction in the need to train staff on the effect of the 2010 reforms.

Table 9.21 Identified non-labour costs of FOI
Costs
2010–11
2011–12
2012–13
2013–14
% change
General legal advice costs
n/a
$5,323,951
$3,116,080
$830,002
−73.4%
Litigation costs
n/a
$1,229,393
$727,879
$157,781
−78.3%
Total legal costs
$4,991,656
$6,553,344
$3,843,959
$987,783
−74.3%
General administrative costs
$700,565
$600,310
$1,100,960
$706,032
−35.9%
Training
$388,207
$398,373
$303,437
$134,989
−55.5%
Other
$282,897
$312,270
$266,893
$78,352
−70.6%
Total
$6,363,324
$7,864,297
$5,515,249
$1,907,156
−65.4%

Average cost per FOI request

The average staff-days per request ranged across agencies from 0.04 to 52.1 days in 2013–14. The overall average was 2.9 days. The average was 2.9 days in 2010–11, 3.1 days in 2011–12 and 3.4 days in 2012–13. The average cost per request ranged across agencies from $20 to $31,837. The overall average was $1470, a decrease of 19.0% on the previous year's average of $1814.

Table 9.22 lists the agencies/ministers that recorded an average cost of less than $200 per request received in 2013–14.

Table 9.22 Agencies/ministers with average cost per request less than $200
Agency
Requests received
Average cost per request
Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation
3
$20
Federal Circuit Court of Australia
3
$20
Minister for Trade and Investment
2
$25
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1
$49
Minister for Resources and Energy
2
$54
Migration Review Tribunal
715
$58
Albury-Wodonga Corporation
1
$59
Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation
1
$59
Designs Office
1
$59
Minister for Industry
4
$62
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
2
$78
Refugee Review Tribunal
633
$79
Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission
1
$86
Private Health Insurance Administration Council
2
$119
Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal
1
$146
Australian Military Forces Relief Trust Fund
2
$149
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
2
$149
Assistant Treasurer
2
$161
Superannuation Complaints Tribunal
14
$179
Remuneration Tribunal
1
$195

Table 9.23 lists the agencies that recorded an average cost of more than $10,000 per request received in 2013–14.

Table 9.23 Agencies with average cost per request greater than $10,000
Agency
Requests received
Average cost per request
Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate
2
$31,837
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
14
$22,919
Food Standards Australia New Zealand
6
$16,907
Australian Agency for International Development
3
$15,430
Special Broadcasting Service Corporation
4
$14,428
Bureau of Meteorology
14
$13,634
Future Fund Management Agency
3
$13,285
Grains Research and Development Corporation
2
$12,677
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
9
$12,191
Export Finance and Insurance Corporation
2
$11,269
Clean Energy Finance Corporation
2
$10,797

The highest average in Table 9.23 increased by 14.4% from 2012–13, when the highest average cost per request was $27,833. There has also been a notable decrease in the volume of requests received by agencies that recorded an average cost of more than $10,000 per request received: in 2012–13 this table included three portfolio departments, which received 27, 44 and 121 requests respectively. Two of these departments reduced their average cost per request to below $10,000 in 2013–14, while the other was abolished in September 2013.

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Impact of the Information Publication Scheme on agency resources

Agencies are required to provide information about the costs of meeting their obligations under the IPS, which commenced on 1 May 2011. Further information about the IPS is given in Chapter Eight.

The total reported cost attributable to compliance with the IPS in 2013–14 was $1.705 million, 45.1% less than in 2012–13 ($3.108 million). This decrease, which followed a 22.2% decrease in 2012–13, may indicate the IPS compliance has shifted to a business-as-usual model following establishment costs in 2011–12. Some agencies did not report any cost of their IPS compliance separately from their costs of complying with the FOI Act. This may be because those agencies were unable to disaggregate those costs.

Staff costs

Table 9.24 shows the total reported IPS staffing across Australian Government agencies in 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013–14 and the percentage change between 2012–13 and 2013–14.

Table 9.24 Total IPS staffing
Staffing
2011–12
2012–13
2013–14
% change
Staff numbers: 75–100% time on IPS matters
21
20
17
−15%
Staff numbers: less than 75% time on IPS matters
691
529
415
−21.6%
Total staff hours
54,101
46,959
26,116
−44.4%
Total staff years
27.1
23.5
13.1
−44.3%

Table 9.25 details the estimated staff costs of IPS for 2013–14, for:

  • IPS contact officers (officers whose duties included IPS work)
  • Other officers involved in IPS work, including:
    • SES
    • APS level 6 and Executive Levels (EL) 1–2
    • APS Levels 1–5.
Table 9.25 Estimated staff costs of IPS for 2013–14
Type of staff
Staff years
Salary costs
Related costs (60%)
Total staff costs
IPS contact officers
8.1
$605,129
$363,077
$968,206
SES
0.3
$61,613
$36,968
$98,581
APS Level 6 and EL 1–2
2.4
$263,174
$157,904
$421,078
APS Levels 1–5
2.1
$131,328
$78,797
$210,125
Total
13.1
$1,061,243
$636,746
$1,697,990

Non-labour costs

Table 9.26 details the identified non-labour costs of the IPS in 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013−14 and the percentage change between 2012−13 and 2013−14.

Table 9.26 Identified non-labour costs of IPS
Item
2011–12
2012–13
2013−14
% change
General administrative costs
$17,808
$24,383
$3768
−84.5%
General legal advice costs
$24,603
$31,502
$319
−99.0%
Training
$6068
$500
$0
−100%
Other
$170,516
$57,300
$2878
−95.0%
Total
$218,995
$113,685
$6965
−93.9%

After increasing in 2012–13, IPS general administrative costs and legal advice costs fell substantially in 2013–14. Agencies also reported a fall in 'Other' IPS costs and no expenditure on IPS training, continuing the decreases from 2012–13. As noted above, these figures suggest agencies, after meeting the initial costs of establishing the IPS, shifted into a business-as-usual model, incurring fewer costs.

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OAIC expenditure on FOI functions

The OAIC has three key functions: information policy, privacy and FOI functions. Although some staff of the OAIC work in only one of these three areas, many work across two or all three functions. It is difficult to precisely identify the proportion of the OAIC's activities, and its resources, that are directed towards each function.

The OAIC estimates that 35% of its resources are directed towards exercising its FOI functions. The OAIC's total expenditure for the reporting period was $13.634 million (see Appendix One). Accordingly, the OAIC estimates that it spent approximately $4.772 million on the exercise of its FOI functions in 2013–14 (down 5.1%).

The OAIC spent $42,689 on processing FOI requests made to the OAIC in 2013–14 (down 9.4%).

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Footnotes

[1] Australian Government ministers and agencies, and the Norfolk Island administration, are required by s 93 of the FOI Act and reg 5 of the Freedom of Information (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1982 to submit statistical returns to the OAIC every quarter.

[2] In 2010–11 and earlier, fees were collected in addition to charges; both are included in these figures. From 1 November 2010, the FOI Act and the Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations (now called the Freedom of Information (Charges) Regulations 1982) were amended to abolish fees and some charges.

[3]Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, s 27.

[4] From 1 July 2014 the fee is $861.

[5] The OAIC's 2012–13 annual report incorrectly stated that the Ombudsman received 55 complaints in that reporting period.

[6] Before 2006–07, salary costs were calculated using the average of the salary levels of the three agencies recording the highest total FOI costs. Since 2006–07, salary costs have been calculated using median APS base salary figures and have taken account of SES salary costs. This means the data before 2006–07 is not strictly comparable with the data collected since 2006–07.

[7] As salary levels differ between agencies, median salary levels were used. These are given by the Australian Public Service Commission in its APS Remuneration Report 2013. These median levels are as at 31 December 2013.

[8] APS Level 5 base salary median.

[9] SES Band 1 base salary median.

[10] Executive Level 1 base salary median.

[11] APS Level 3 base salary median.

[12] Executive Level 2 base salary median.

[13] APS Level 3 salary median.

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Long text descriptions

Chart 9.1 Applications for review of FOI decisions by the AAT since 1983–84

Chart 9.1 is a bar graph that illustrates the total number of applications received by the AAT for review of an FOI decision since the commencement of the FOI Act in 1982.

YearNumber of applications
1983–84 200
1984–85 310
1985–86 267
1986–87 171
1987–88 80
1988–89 101
1989–90 73
1990–91 68
1991–92 74
1992–93 78
1993–94 129
1994–95 113
1995–96 118
1996–97 117
1997–98 122
1998–99 140
1999–2000 109
2000–01 150
2001–02 99
2002–03 118
2003–04 158
2004–05 142
2005–06 141
2006–07 120
2007–08 142
2008–09 139
2009–10 110
2010–11 82
2011–12 20
2012–13 42
2013-14 35

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Chart 9.2 FOI costs in relation to the number of requests received

This chart shows the relationship between FOI costs and the number of FOI requests received for each year since 1982–83. The chart also shows FOI costs in relation to numbers of FOI requests. These costs are explained in table 9.14.

YearNumber of FOI requestsAnnual costs
1982–83 5576 $7,502,355
1983–84 19,227 $15,106,511
1984–85 32,956 $16,496,961
1985–86 36,512 $15,711,889
1986–87 29,880 $13,336,864
1987–88 27,429 $11,506,931
1988–89 24,679 $10,494,376
1989–90 23,543 $10,373,321
1990–91 24,929 $9,921,772
1991–92 28,247 $12,723,097
1992–93 33,804 $12,702,329
1993–94 36,547 $13,977,360
1994–95 37,367 $11,955,482
1995–96 39,327 $14,564,562
1996–97 30,788 $15,972,950
1997–98 32,590 $12,191,478
1998–99 33,484 $13,066,029
1999–2000 31,784 $14,035,394
2000–01 35,439 $14,415,406
2001–02 37,169 $17,387,088
2002–03 41,481 $18,398,181
2003–04 42,627 $20,189,136
2004–05 39,265 $22,860,022
2005–06 41,430 $24,903,771
2006–07 38,787 $24,936,178
2007–08 29,019 $29,474,653
2008–09 27,561 $30,358,484
2009–10 21,587 $27,484,129
2010–11 23,605 $36,318,030
2011–12 24,764 $41,718,803
2012–13 24,944 $45,231,147
2013-14 28,463 $41,836,685

Back to Chart 9.2

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