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Freedom of information reforms

The Australian Government reformed the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) in 2010. The main objectives were to:

  • promote a pro-disclosure culture across the government
  • build a stronger foundation for more openness in government.

Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 and Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010

The majority of measures in the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 and the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 began on 1 November 2010. This included the establishment of the new Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Different commencement times apply to:

  • the Information Publication Scheme (new Part II of the FOI Act)—began on 1 May 2011
  • a requirement for agencies to publish information where access has been given under Part III of the FOI Act (new section 11C of the FOI Act)—began on 1 May 2011
  • changes to bring forward the ‘open access period’ in the Archives Act 1983 for most records from 30 years to 20 years—began on 1 January 2011 (for records created in 1980 or 1981). The changes phase in over ten years so that a record created in 2000 will be in the open access period on 1 January 2021.
  • changes to bring forward the ‘open access period’ in the Archives Act for Cabinet notebooks from 50 years to 30 years—began on 1 January 2011. The changes will be phased in over ten years so that a Cabinet notebook created in 1990 will be in the open access period on 1 January 2021.

You can view information about the new FOI regime on the website of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

New requirement for agencies to take contractual measures

Under the reforms, agencies must take contractual measures to ensure they receive documents held by certain contractors or subcontractors if someone requests access to them under the FOI Act.

The requirement applies to certain contracts entered into on or after 1 November 2010. You can download a model clause and guidance document from the website of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Appointment of the Australian Information Commissioner and the FOI Commissioner

Professor John McMillan AO took up his appointment as Australian Information Commissioner on 1 November 2010.

The Commissioner is supported by two statutory officers—the Privacy Commissioner and the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

  • Mr Timothy Pilgrim was appointed Privacy Commissioner for five years from 19 July 2010.
  • Dr James Popple was appointed FOI Commissioner for five years from 1 November 2010.

Changes to FOI fees and charges regime

Changes to the FOI fees and charges regime were implemented by the Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Amendment Regulations 2010 (No. 1) which began on 1 November 2010 and which amend the Freedom of Information (Charges) Regulations 1982.

In summary, for applications received on or after 1 November 2010, the changes are:

  • No application fee is payable for an FOI request or application for internal review.
  • An applicant who seeks access to their own personal information does not pay any charges.
  • For all other applications, the first five hours of decision-making time is free of charge.
  • Charges are not payable where an agency or minister fails to notify a decision within a period prescribed in the Act (including a permitted extension period).

Visit the FOI guidelines before 1 November 2010 page for applications made before that date.

On 7 October 2011, the then Privacy and FOI minister asked the Australian Information Commissioner to review the FOI Act charges regime. The Commissioner’s report of February 2012 is available on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website.

Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Act 2009

This Act commenced on 7 October 2009. It repealed the power to issue conclusive certificates in the FOI Act and the Archives Act 1983.

Conclusive certificates issued by the minister responsible for an agency, make the document that is the subject of the certificate exempt for as long as the certificate remains in force.

Letter to departmental secretaries and agency heads

On 30 April 2009, the then Cabinet Secretary wrote to departmental secretaries and agency heads asking them to take a lead role in facilitating the government’s policy objective of enhancing a culture of disclosure.

More information about the FOI reforms is available on the website of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.