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FOI fact sheet 10: Freedom of information and the Minister's office

Documents which you can seek under the Freedom of Information Act 1982(the FOI Act) include the official documents of a minister (including a parliamentary secretary). Official documents are those documents held by the minister that relate to the affairs of an agency or department. If you believe your personal information contained in those documents is incorrect, you can also ask for the documents to be amended. The FOI Act does not apply to a minister's personal documents, documents of a party political nature, or documents held in the minister's capacity as a local member of parliament. Nor does the FOI Act apply to a person who is no longer a minister.

The minister's office is an independent entity

A minister's office is a separate entity from the portfolio department for which the minister is responsible. This means that the minister's office is responsible for processing FOI requests that are directed to the minister.

A minister's office can seek assistance from a portfolio department in processing an FOI request. The minister's office is still obliged to ensure that the request is properly handled and that an adequate search is undertaken for relevant documents.

What documents are covered by the FOI Act?

Documents which may be available for access under the FOI Act include an 'official document of a minister'. This means a document which is in the minister's possession in their capacity as a minister and which relates to the affairs of a department or other government agency.

The FOI Act does not apply to documents of a party political nature or to documents held in the minister's capacity as a local member of parliament. Nor does it extend to a minister's personal documents.

Can a minister's office transfer a request to another agency?

Upon receiving an FOI request, the minister's office is required to search the documents it holds to ascertain if relevant documents are held there, and to assess whether the request relates more closely to the functions of another agency such as the portfolio department.

If the request does relate more closely to another agency's functions, the minister's office can transfer responsibility for processing the request to the agency (together with any relevant documents), provided the agency agrees. The minister's office must notify you if it transfers your request. The agency will then respond to you directly.

I believe the documents the minister has contain incorrect information about me — what can I do?

You can ask for a document in a minister's possession to be amended if personal information relating to you is incomplete or incorrect. Your right to request an amendment does not extend to documents that do not contain your personal information. This right is the same when an agency holds the documents.

Who makes the decision?

If your FOI request is processed in the minister's office, the minister may authorise another person in the office to make the decision. The FOI Act does not require the minister to make the decision personally.

The minister must apply the provisions of the FOI Act, in the same way that a department or agency would. For example, you are entitled to be given access to a document if it is not an exempt document; and the minister can impose a charge for processing your request as authorised by the FOI Act.

How long will it take before my request is finalised?

The minister's office must take all reasonable steps to notify you of its decision (including a decision to transfer your request to another agency) no later than 30 days after your request was received. The 30 day time limit continues to apply if your request is transferred to an agency.

If your request involves complex issues or a large number of documents, the minister's office may contact you to negotiate an extension. The minister's office can also ask the Information Commissioner for an extension of time to process your request.

Can the decision be reviewed?

You cannot ask for internal review if the decision on your request was made in the minister's office, whether by the minister or an authorised member of their staff.

You can ask the Information Commissioner to review the decision. The Commissioner cannot, however, investigate a complaint about how the minister's office handled your request - for example, a complaint about delay. For further information on the review and complaint processes, see FOI fact sheet 12: Your review rights and How do I make an FOI complaint?

Is the minister's office required to report on what action it has taken under the FOI Act?

Yes. Ministers, like agencies, must submit statistics on the number of FOI requests received and processed. The minister's office may have an arrangement with the portfolio department to help meet this obligation.

Further information can be found in FOI fact sheet 4: The information publication scheme for Australian Government agencies.

The information provided in this fact sheet is of a general nature. It is not a substitute for legal advice.

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