Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act 1989 (FOI Act) provides a legally enforceable right of access by the general public to all documents in the possession of the Government, subject only to exemptions to protect the legitimate interests of the Government and the third parties who deal with the Government.

To assist the community in understanding how the Directorate processes freedom of information and other public access requests, an internal policy on Processing Public Access Requests was posted on the Directorate’s website. This policy advises how each type of request is processed, timelines for completion and additional information that may assist in understanding decision making around public access. Releasing this policy to the general public demonstrated the Directorate’s commitment to open and transparent government.

The FOI Act requires certain reports to be compiled and included in the Directorate’s annual report. These reports comprise three sections: statements for sections 7,8 and 79.

Section 7 Statement

In accordance with the requirements of Section 7 of the FOI Act, this statement reports on the particulars, functions and powers of the Directorate, certain categories of documents held by the Directorate, and the arrangements for public participation in the formulation of policy and operations. The organisational functions and powers and the legislation administered by the Directorate are listed in sections B and C of this annual report and constitute part of the Section 7 Statement.

Categories of documents

The Directorate holds the following categories of documents:

  • those that are freely available on request and without charge
  • those available for sale including those that form part of the public register
  • those that are exempt under the FOI Act and
  • all other kinds of documents that may be available under the FOI Act.

Documents that are available on request for acquisition or inspection without charge include publications on various aspects of the Directorate’s activities and some development applications.
These are available from the Customer Service Centre, Ground Floor, Dame Pattie Menzies Building, 16 Challis Street, Dickson and may be available on the Directorate’s website, www.environment.act.gov.au.

Documents available for sale include maps, plans, some publications, some reports and surveys and certified copies of certificates, including building and lease compliance.

Documents that may be made available under the FOI Act include:
  • general files including internal, interdepartmental and public documents, minutes of meetings of management and other committees, agendas and background papers, policy statements, and financial and staffing estimates
  • diaries, rosters, work sheets
  • program and policy files
  • records held on microfilm, computer or paper in connection with specialised divisional functions
  • photographs, videos and films
  • financial and accounting records
  • details of contracts and tenders
  • files on applicants and clients
  • records of government including the machinery of government
  • leases and deeds of agreement
  • maps, plans and brochures.

Facilities for access

Those seeking information are encouraged to contact the Directorate before resorting to the more formal FOI procedure. In many cases it may be possible to access information more quickly and efficiently through such an approach.

For those visiting in person, ACTION buses provide a convenient service along Northbourne Avenue and Flemington Road. The Dickson and Mitchell offices are fully wheelchair accessible and are physically located at:
  • Dickson: Dame Pattie Menzies House, 16 Challis Street, Dickson ACT
  • Mitchell: 8 Darling Street, Mitchell ACT.

Consultation

Public participation in decision making occurs in many ways, including public submissions to development applications and territory planning processes, public submissions to inquiries, discussion at public meetings, consultative committees for specific purposes, comments on draft documents and comments on Bills before the Assembly.

The Directorate’s contact for FOI is:
Freedom of Information Coordinator
Environment and Planning Directorate, GPO Box 158, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone 13 22 81 EPDFOI@act.gov.au

Section 8 Statement

Section 8 of the FOI Act requires the Directorate to publish a statement (which may be in the form of an index) specifying the documents provided by the Directorate for an enactment or scheme administered by the Directorate.

A copy of the Section 8 Statement is not published in this report but is available on request from the Directorate’s FOI Coordinator at the above address.

Section 79 Statement

This report is prepared in accordance with Section 79 of the FOI Act. FOI requests are categorised in terms of full release; partial release; entirely exempt; technical refusal (no documents located); still being processed; transferred; and withdrawn.

In 2013–14 the Directorate received 125 requests for access to documents. The following tables outline the completion timelines, the access decisions made for these requests and reviewed applications.

Applications made under the FOI Act during 2013–14
Decision Number

Initial applications lodged

125

Full release

18

Partial release

57

Entirely exempt

7

Technical refusal (no documents found)

9

Withdrawn

14

Transferred

1

Still being processed

5

FOI response times 2013–14
Time taken to determine requests Days

30 days or less

58

30–45 days

17

46–60 days

14

61–90 days

10

90 days or more

7

Review of decisions under s. 59 of the FOI Act during 2013–14
Review of Decisions Numbers

Reviews lodged

5

Reviews upheld

5

Reviews overturned

0

In processing requests, the Directorate makes every effort to comply with the required timeframes. However, there will be some situations where requests are completed outside the statutory timeframe. This may be the result of the amount and complexity of information to be examined and the release decisions required, or particular workload and resource issues within the Directorate at the time. Where it appears the 30-day timeframe for a response will not be met, the Directorate advises the applicant and requests an extension of time.

Under ss. 26, 27 and 27A of the FOI Act, the Commonwealth and state governments, commercial organisations and private individuals must be consulted where their interests may be adversely affected by the release of documents. Subsection 18(4) of the FOI Act provides for the 30-day timeframe to respond to an FOI request to be extended by 30 days for documents on which third party consultation is necessary.

Fees and charges

No application fees are payable for FOI requests in the ACT. However, the FOI Act does allow a charge for processing a request that exceeds more than 10 hours of processing or time spent making a decision under the Act, and for printed copies that exceed 200 A4 pages. The Directorate charged fees for the processing of one application in 2013–14. The total fees paid were $1148.75.

To help clients reduce fees, and promote more sustainable business processes, the Directorate encourages the provision of digital responses rather than printed copies.

Tribunal applications

No tribunal applications were received during the year.

Requests to amend records

There were no requests received during the year to amend records under s. 48 of the FOI Act.

Contact point for FOI matters

Copies of the FOI application form and associated information are available on the Directorate’s website at www.environment.act.gov.au/about_us/freedom_of_information.

The Directorate encourages the use of its online application form, located on the Directorate’s website. If a hard copy form is required please contact the Directorate’s FOI Officer via Access Canberra on 13 22 81.