Freedom of Information frequently asked questions

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What are my rights under FOI?

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act) gives every person a legal right to:

  • obtain access to a document held by the department (other than an exempt document)
  • ask for their personal information held by the department to be changed if it is incomplete, incorrect, out–of–date or misleading
  • appeal against a decision not to grant access to a document or amend or annotate a personal record.

Employees and former employees

  • The department has established procedures to allow employees or former employees access to their own personnel records.
  • If you wish to see your own personnel records, you must first use those procedures.
  • If you are dissatisfied with the result of using those procedures or you are not notified within 30 days of the outcome of your request to access your records, you may then make a request under the FOI Act.
  • To ask for a copy of the Request for Access to Personnel Records policy, or if you wish to seek access to your own personnel records, contact the department’s People Management Branch on switchboard: +61 2 6272 3933.

What documents can I ask for through FOI?

Documents held by the department include, but are not limited to, paper records, electronic records, card indexes, CD–ROMs, DVDs, sound recordings, maps, plans, drawings and photographs.

To minimise the charge you may incur for searching and retrieving the documents, you will need to be as specific as possible about:

  • the details of your request
  • the reasons why you’re seeking the information and what documents you require — i.e. do you want to know about the outcome of an inquiry (a report), the decision making process (minutes) or communication between decision makers (email correspondence)
  • the time period your request falls under.

Are there types of documents I may not be able to see?

The right to access documents held by government is subject to certain limitations that ensure that sensitive information is properly protected. If you request a document from the department or the minister under the FOI Act, you may not be given access to all or part of the document if it falls within one of the categories of exemptions under the FOI Act.

There are two categories: exempt information and conditionally exempt information.

Exempt information includes:

  • personal information about anyone other than yourself
  • documents affecting national security, defence or international relations
  • cabinet documents (eg. documents submitted or proposed to be submitted to Cabinet, official records of Cabinet and any extracts of these documents)
  • documents affecting the enforcement of a law for the protection of public safety
  • documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply
  • documents subject to legal professional privilege
  • documents containing material obtained in confidence
  • documents disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament or contempt of court
  • documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information
  • electoral rolls and related documents.

Conditional exemptions are subject to a public interest test, meaning that information will be released unless it is contrary to the public interest. Conditionally exempt information includes:

  • documents related to Commonwealth State relations
  • documents related to deliberative processes
  • documents related to financial property interests of the Commonwealth
  • documents related to certain operations of agencies
  • documents containing personal privacy
  • documents containing information about business, research and/or the economy.

Factors favouring access to a document in the public interest include whether giving access to the document would:

  • promote the objects of the Act
  • inform debate on a matter of public importance
  • promote effective oversight of public expenditure
  • allow a person to access his or her own personal information.

For more detailed information about FOI exemptions, see the list of exemptions under the FOI Act.

How do I make an FOI request?

For the department to process your request as quickly as possible, at the lowest possible cost, your request must:

  • be made in writing
  • state that you are seeking information in accordance with the FOI Act
  • provide enough information for the department to clearly identify the scope of your request, the time periods your request falls under and the category of documents sought. i.e. reports, minutes, emails etc.
  • specify an address (either email or physical) so the department can correspond with you about your request.

Although not a requirement under the FOI Act, you may also wish to provide a phone number to make it easier for us to consult with you about your request.

FOI requests should be sent to:

FOI Officer
Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

or via the FOI online form.

What does the department have to do when it gets my request?

  • Tell you within 14 days that we have received the request.
  • Deal with it as soon as possible.
  • As soon as possible, give you an estimate of the charges if any are applicable (see below).
  • Within 30 days, tell you our decision on giving you access.
  • If the documents you seek relate to third parties, the department may extend the time in which we are required to tell you our decision by another 30 days.
  • Talk to you about any difficulties. While we will do our best to meet these statutory time limits, circumstances may prevent us meeting them in every case. If such a situation arises, we will contact you to advise you of any delays.

In addition to FOI legislation and guidance from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the department has an FOI policy that officers refer to when processing your request. To request a copy of the department’s FOI policy please fill out the FOI online form.  

How much will it cost me?

Application fees

Application fees have been abolished. 

Processing charges

  • The charge for locating documents is $15 per hour.
  • The first five hours of decision making and consultation time is free of charge and $20 per hour for every hour after that.
  • There are charges in relation to the provision of access (e.g. 10c per photocopy).
  • Requests for personal information are processed free of charge.

From 1 November 2010 the following fees apply:

Fees and charges for FOI
RequestCharge
ApplicationNo fee
Search and retrieval$15 per hour
Decision making and consultationFirst five hours free, after that $20 per hour
When FOI request is not responded to within the statutory time limitNo fees
Internal reviewNo fee
Request for personal informationNo fee

Exemption and remission

  • You can seek a waiver/remission of fees on the grounds of financial hardship or public interest, or any other factor you feel may be relevant. If you wish to have your request considered for reduced charges or free of charge, please include these reasons in your application.  Where the department decides that you are liable to pay a charge for access to a document, it must give you a written notice stating its preliminary assessment of the charge. The department uses a charges calculator XLS [68 KB] as a guide to estimating preliminary charges.
  • You may contend that the charge has been wrongly assessed, or should be reduced or not imposed. In deciding whether to reduce or not to impose a charge, the decision–maker must, amongst other things, take into account whether payment of the charge, or part of it, would cause you financial hardship and whether the giving of access to the documents is in the general public interest.
  • A request to review the charges is considered an application for internal review.  

Deposits

Where an estimated charge exceeds $25, a deposit may be required. Where a deposit has been sought or a charge imposed, the department does not need to take further action until payment is received.

How will the documents be given to me?

  • The department will let you see the documents, or give you a copy. In some cases another form may be more appropriate (eg. listening to a tape recording).
  • If copies are not sent to you, the department will let you know how, when and where you can see them. This may be at the department’s central office, the National Archives of Australia Information Access Office nearest to where you live, or another Australian Government agency's office nearest to where you live.
  • Should you have a preference such as post or email, say so when making your FOI request. Generally, you will be given access in that form.
  • Special procedures may apply if you want to see information which concerns your physical or mental health:
    • where the department thinks giving the information to you directly might prejudice your physical or mental health or well-being, the department may decide to give the documents to an appropriate health care worker or social worker (here called a 'qualified person') of your choice, rather than to you directly
    • you can appeal against the decision to give it to a qualified person rather than to you directly, but what that person tells you or shows you is a matter for his or her judgment.

Can I have documents about me corrected?

  • Yes. If you have lawful access to a document that contains personal information about you, that you think is incomplete, incorrect, out–of–date, or misleading, you can ask for the document to be amended or annotated.
  • Write to the department to ask for the document to be amended or annotated. Your request should be sent to:

    FOI Officer
    Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
    GPO Box 858
    Canberra ACT 2601

    or via email to Freedom of Information
  • Provide reasons and evidence, if possible, of why you are asking for the amendments or annotations, and state what changes you want made.
  • Include an address where the department can send correspondence to you.
  • No fees apply to these requests.
  • The department must acknowledge receipt of your request and provide you with its decision and reasons for that decision within 30 days of receiving your request.
  • If you are a current employee of the department, you should first contact the department’s Human Resources Branch (HRB) on - Switchboard +61 2 6272 3933 before applying through FOI. 

Who makes a decision on my FOI request?

FOI authorisation

In accordance with subsection 23(1) of the FOI Act, an FOI request received by the department can be decided by an authorised person​. The most recent Instrument of Authorisation is below.

Instrument of Authorisation

Instrument of Authorisation dated ​18 June 2014  PDF [364 KB]

What FOI decisions can I appeal against?

  • Decisions you believe do not give you access to the information you want, when you want it, or in the form you want it.
  • Decisions imposing a charge to see what you want.
  • Decisions in respect of the amount of the charge imposed upon you.
  • Decisions refusing to change or annotate documents about you which you think are incomplete, incorrect, out–of–date or misleading.
  • Decisions to let others see documents which you say would unreasonably disclose:
    • your personal information
    • your lawful business or professional affairs
    • lawful business, commercial or financial affairs of your firm. 
  • Decisions to give you access to documents about your physical or mental health through a qualified person and not directly to you.

How can I appeal a decision?

Internal review

  • You may request an internal review of a decision within 30 days of being notified of the decision or within 15 days of viewing the documents.
  • Write to the department, detailing your reasons for seeking an internal review.
  • Include an address where the department can send correspondence.
  • Send your request for internal review to:

    FOI Officer
    Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
    GPO Box 858
    Canberra ACT 2601

    or via email to Freedom of Information
  • A new decision maker will be appointed to make a fresh decision on the request.
  • The department will tell you of the new decision and the reasons for the decision within 30 days.
If you are dissatisfied with the internal review decision, you can request the department undertake  another internal review or contact the Information Commissioner (IC) to review the decision or make a complaint. The application for IC review can be made following the initial decision by the agency or minister, or after internal review. It is not necessary for you to go through an agency’s internal review process first before applying for an IC review. The IC can be contacted on 1300 363 992 or via their website, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

External merits review

From 1 November 2010 a new appeals process is in place which encompasses a two–tier external merits review system:
  • Information Commissioner
  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Information Commissioner (IC) Review

  • You can apply to the IC for a merit review of an access refusal decision by an agency or minister; and an affected third party can apply for review of an access grant decision.
  • The application for IC review can be made following the initial decision by the agency or minister, or after internal review. It is not necessary for you to go through an agency’s internal review process first before applying for an IC review.
  • The IC can affirm, vary or substitute a new decision, and the Commissioner’s decision is binding.
  • If the IC decides to review the decision, the review application process has a timeframe of 60 days for access refusal decisions or where an agency has been ‘deemed’ to have refused access, and 30 days for access grant decisions.
  • Your application must be made in writing and include a copy of the original/internal review decision.
  • Applications to the IC do not attract an application fee.
IC reviews are designed to be informal, non–adversarial and timely. Most matters will be reviewed on the papers rather than through formal hearings.  The IC may obtain any information from any person or make any inquiries that he/she considers appropriate.

You can request a review by the IC in writing, or by using their online merits review form. Further information is available on their website: Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

  • A party to the IC review can apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for review of the IC’s decision, except in some limited circumstances.
  • Also, the IC can decline to undertake a review and refer the matter to the AAT.
  • A person cannot apply to the AAT for review of the IC’s decision not to undertake or continue a review. However, a complaint may be made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Investigation of complaints

  • The IC can investigate action taken by agencies under the FOI Act, either on response to a complaint (e.g. about an agency’s delay or lack of assistance), or on the IC’s own motion.
  • The Commonwealth Ombudsman retains authority to investigate complaints against agency action under the FOI Act, although it is expected that the IC will deal with most FOI complaints.

Third parties

  • Many FOI requests will often involve third parties.
  • Under the FOI Act, affected third parties must be given the opportunity to make submissions on how they will be affected if information pertaining to them is released. Such information could include an individual’s personal information, or information relating to an organisation’s business, commercial or financial affairs.
  • If the department believes you are a third party that may be affected by the release of such information, it will write to you and ask you to submit your concerns. The decision–maker will take your concerns into consideration when making his/her decision about whether or not to release the information.
  • If, as a third party, you have objected to the release of the information, but the department decides the information should be released, you will be notified of the decision at the same time as the applicant.
  • You have the right to apply for an internal review of the decision or to lodge an appeal with the IC for review of the decision, within 30 days of receiving notice of the decision.
  • You are also entitled to complain to the IC if you are dissatisfied with the department’s decision or the way in which the request was handled.

Further information

For more information, you can contact the department’s FOI Officers: Switchboard: +61 2 6272 3933
email Freedom of Information ​or at the department’s postal address: 

FOI Officer
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601 ​

Contact us

You can contact the FOI Officer by phone, feedback form or post.

  • Switchboard
    +61 2 6272 3933
  • Make an FOI request
    Request form
  • General email inquiries
    FOI Officer
  • Post
    FOI Officer
    Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources​
    GPO Box 858
    Canberra ACT 2601
  • Is our information useful?
    Feedback form
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