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FOI fact sheet 15: Freedom of information and Norfolk Island

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) came into effect on Norfolk Island on 1 January 2011. This means that you have a right to ask for access to documents held by Norfolk Island government agencies and certain documents of Norfolk Island ministers. This includes documents containing personal information about you, and information about government policies or programs.

Accessing government information

Making a formal request under the FOI Act is one way of requesting access to government information – another option is to simply ask agencies or ministers for the information, for example, your health records. You may find that the agency or minister is willing to give you the information without using the formal processes of the FOI Act.

From 1 May 2013, Norfolk Island agencies will also proactively publish a range of additional information as part of the Information Publication Scheme which is included in the FOI Act (see FOI fact sheet 4: The information publication scheme for Australian Government agencies).

You can also ask Norfolk Island agencies or ministers to amend personal information they hold about you if that information is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading (for further details see FOI fact sheet 5: Freedom of information — Your personal information).

Who is covered by the FOI Act?

The FOI Act applies to Norfolk Island ‘authorities’. This includes public sector agencies; bodies established for a public purpose under a Norfolk Island Act (for example, the Norfolk Island Government Tourism Bureau and the Norfolk Island Hospital); bodies established by the Administrator or a Norfolk Island minister; and statutory office holders. The FOI Act does not apply to companies, incorporated associations or the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island.

The FOI Act only extends to official documents of Norfolk Island ministers, that is, documents that relate to the affairs of a Norfolk Island authority. Ministers’ personal or party political documents are not covered.

Who can request documents under the FOI Act?

Any person can request access under the FOI Act to documents held by Norfolk Island agencies or ministers. They need not be a resident of Norfolk Island.

If someone asks for documents that contain your personal or business information, you will have the right to be consulted in certain circumstances before the agency or minister decides to release the documents. See FOI fact sheet 11: Your rights if information about you or your business is requested for further details of the process and your rights.

What information can I be given?

Access must be given to a document that is requested under the FOI Act unless the document is exempt. Your reasons for seeking access are not relevant to the decision about whether to release a document.

The FOI Act applies to documents created from 1 January 2006 (five years before the FOI Act commenced on Norfolk Island). It also applies to documents created before that date if they contain your personal, business, commercial or financial information, and documents that are reasonably necessary to enable a proper understanding of another document that you lawfully have access to.

Exempt documents that an agency or minister can refuse to release under the FOI Act include:

  • documents affecting Australia’s national security, defence or international relations
  • Norfolk Island Executive Council documents (and Australian Government Cabinet documents)
  • documents affecting the enforcement of law and protection of public safety
  • documents to which secrecy provisions in other legislation apply
  • documents subject to legal professional privilege
  • documents containing material obtained in confidence
  • documents whose disclosure would be in contempt of the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island, in contempt of the Parliament of the Commonwealth or a state or in contempt of court
  • documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information
  • electoral rolls, including those prepared under the Legislative Assembly Act 1979 of Norfolk Island, and related documents.

Other documents exempt from the FOI Act include documents available on a public register for a fee (such as a land title register) and other documents available for purchase from an agency.

There are also eight categories of ‘conditionally exempt’ documents. Those documents must be released unless their disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Conditionally exempt documents relate to:

  • relations between the Commonwealth, Norfolk Island, a state or a territory
  • deliberative processes relating to agencies' or ministers' functions
  • the financial and property interests of Norfolk Island or the Commonwealth
  • certain operations of agencies (such as audits, examinations and personnel management)
  • personal privacy
  • business affairs
  • research (by CSIRO or the Australian National University)
  • the economy of Norfolk Island and the economy of Australia.

In cases where an agency or minister decides that only part of a document contains information that is exempt under the FOI Act, they may give you an edited version with the exempt content deleted. They can also decide to delete other information that is not relevant to the scope of your request. In these cases the decision maker should indicate where content has been edited and why. For more information about exemptions, see FOI fact sheet 8: Freedom of information — Exemptions.

How do I make an FOI request

You must:

  • make the request in writing
  • state that it is an application for the purposes of the FOI Act
  • provide information about the document(s) you want, to allow the agency or minister to identify them
  • give details about how notices can be sent to you (this can include an email address)
  • send your request to the agency or minister by either posting it or delivering to the address specified in the telephone directory, or sending it to their email or fax address.

The agency or minister must notify you within 14 days that they have received your request. If a request to an agency does not comply with the formal requirements, they will help you to revise it.

The agency or minister’s office may also consult you if your request is complex or large, and they could not process it without spending an unreasonable amount of time or resources. The consultation process aims to help you refine the scope of your request.

In some cases, such as where the agency does not have the documents you are seeking but knows that another agency or minister is likely to have them, your request may be transferred to that other agency or minister. You will be notified if this happens.

Charges under the FOI Act

There is no application fee for requesting access to a document under the FOI Act or asking for your personal information to be amended or annotated. However, an agency or minister may decide to charge you for the work involved in processing your request, except where the request concerns access to your own personal information. For further information, see FOI fact sheet 7: Freedom of information — Charges.

When will I receive a decision?

Agencies and ministers must make a decision about your FOI request within 30 days of receiving it. The 30 day period may be extended:

  • by up to 30 days if you agree in writing
  • by 30 days where the decision maker needs to consult the Australian Government, a state or territory government, an international organisation or a foreign government, or other people where the document relates to their business affairs or personal privacy
  • by the time taken to revise your request if the agency notifies you that the scope is unreasonably wide
  • by any time during which the agency or minister is discussing with you the charges for processing your request.

The Australian Information Commissioner may also grant the agency or minister an extension in some circumstances. The Information Commissioner is an independent officer who has oversight of the FOI Act and can review decisions made by agencies and ministers.

Your review rights

If you are unhappy with the decision on your FOI request, you have the right to ask for review. For further information see FOI fact sheet 12: Your review rights.

You can also complain to the Information Commissioner if you have concerns about how an agency handled your matter. Before doing so, you should contact the agency directly to try to resolve your concerns. Further information is in How do I make an FOI complaint?

More information

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner publishes a range of FOI fact sheets and other guidance that may be of interest at www.oaic.gov.au.

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