The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner understands that the COVID-19 pandemic may affect the ability of some Australian Government agencies to comply with the statutory timeframes in the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
As agencies take appropriate steps to protect staff under their Business Continuity Plans, we suggest implementing the following measures to assist in meeting the statutory timeframe:
Encouraging use of self-service or administrative access schemes
Updating your agency’s FOI page and/or FOI request form to explain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agency’s ability to process FOI requests, which may require the agency to seek an applicant’s agreement to extend the processing timeframe
Seeking agreement from the FOI applicant to an extension of time under s 15AA as part of the acknowledgment letter
If the applicant does not agree to an extension of time, applying to the OAIC for an extension of time under ss 15AB, 15AC or 54D of the FOI Act using the OAIC’s SmartForm
We will decide any application for an extension of time to process an FOI request on a case-by-case basis. Our assessment will take into account factors which may make it challenging for agencies to meet the statutory timeframe, such as the availability of subject matter experts, decision makers or line area staff. Agencies are advised to be as specific as possible about these factors in their application, including the impact of Business Continuity Plan arrangements.
If you have any questions about these issues please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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