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FOI agency resource 1: Twelve tips for FOI decision makers

Follow these tips for better practice under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).

  1. Government information = national resource
    Government information is for public access and use. Remember there is a presumption of openness in the FOI Act. Give access outside the Act wherever you can (for example, through an administrative access or disclosure scheme).

  2. Know the law
    Be on top of the FOI Act and the Australian Information Commissioner's Guidelines. Understand your obligations as a decision maker and the rights and responsibilities of applicants and third parties.

  3. Help applicants
    You must help applicants meet the formal requirements to make an FOI request. Help them narrow the scope if their request is too large or vague. Keep in regular contact with them, especially if there's any delayin making a decision.

  4. Search thoroughly
    Apply a flexible and common sense approach to the wording of an FOI request. Make sure that you search records thoroughly for documents that could come within its scope.

  5. Meet the timeframes
    You have 30 calendar days to process a request, and another 30 days if you need to consult third parties. You may have a further 30 days, but only if the applicant agrees. Meet the timeframes – beat them if possible. You can only apply to the Information Commissioner for an extension of time if you have sound reasons.

  6. Transfer requests early
    If a request should be handled by another agency or minister, make sure you act quickly, as the processing time doesn't stop.
  7. Consider charges
    Consider whether you should impose a charge for processing a request. You cannot charge an applicant for access to their own personal information. A charge should fairly reflect the work involved in providing access.

  8. Keep good records
    Develop and maintain effective records. Keep file notes and save emails. Use a schedule of documents in making a decision.

  9. Know what's in the public interest
    Would disclosure of a conditionally exempt document be contrary to the public interest? Make sure you consider the relevant public interest factors apply to the particular documents you are considering. Disregard irrelevant factors.

  10. Decide each case on its own merits
    Approach each request as a new request. Precedents can be helpful, but look out for specific circumstances.

  11. Explain your decision
    Explain clearly why you made your decision. Address all grounds for decisions on charges, exemptions or deletion of information. Write your decision with the applicant in mind.

  12. Be part of a network
    Share information and resources with other FOI practitioners. Join the Information Contact Officer Network (ICON). Attend ICON meetings to keep up to date with the latest developments in FOI, privacy and information policy. Subscribe to the OAIC's mailing list. Attend an FOI training seminar.

Need more? Checklists, guidance notes and other guidance material are available on our website.

For further information

telephone: 1300 363 992
email: enquiries@oaic.gov.au
write: GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 2001
Or visit our website at www.oaic.gov.au