Freedom of Information Act 1982
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI) is Australian Commonwealth Freedom of Information legislation which gives members of the public rights of access to official documents of the Government of the Commonwealth and of its agencies.
Outline of the Act
Members of the public have certain rights of access. These include the right to access documents about the operation of government departments and documents that are in the possession of government Ministers or agencies (Freedom of Information Act 1982). Certain documents are exempt from this, including (but not limited to) documents that could damage national security, defence  or international relations, or any document that could damage Commonwealth-State relations (Freedom of Information Act 1982). Section 41 protects personal privacy by exempting documents the disclosure of which would result in the unreasonable disclosure of personal information about any individual person, including a deceased person.
The request for access to a document must be in writing, and contain a reasonable amount of information about the requested document in order for it to be easier to locate. The application process can also incur charges. The government agency or Minister who receives the application must endeavor to inform the applicant that their request has been received within 14 working days, and must also notify the applicant of their decision in relation to the request within 30 working days.
History of the FOI
Before the FOI act of 1982 the various governments of Australia had no obligation to release information to the public, because the traditional Westminster system of governance is fairly closed to public scrutiny. Between the 1960s and 1980s a number of enquiries were made, looking into the transparency of the Australian government and public services which led to New Industry Law (NAL) reforms. One of the NAL initiatives was Freedom of Information and is considered a "landmark in the development of Australian democracy".
Update to legislation
The Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 was passed in May 2010, and came into effect from November 2010. The changes were largely targeted at reducing the cost of FOI applications, which had been criticised by journalists as prohibitively costly (Ricketson and Snell, 2002). Some of the changes (Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010) for applications received on or after 1 November 2010 include:
- 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.
- Freedom of Information Act 1982 s 33(a)
- Re Chandra and Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (1984) 6 ALN N257 .
- Freedom of Information Act 1982 s 15(2)
- Freedom of Information Act 1982 s 29
- Freedom of Information Act 1982 s 15(5)
- Stubbs, Rhys 2008, 'Freedom of Information and Democracy in Australia and Beyond', Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol.43, No.4, pp.667-684.
- Ricketson, Matthew & Snell, Rick in Tanner, Stephen (ed.) 2002, ‘Journalism: Investigation and Research’, Longman, Sydney.
- Freedom of Information (FOI) Reform, Australian Government Attorney-General's Department http://www.dpmc.gov.au/foi/foi_reform.cfm
- Freedom of Information Act 1982 at Australasian Legal Information Institute (AUSLII)
- Freedom of Information Act 1982, Australian Government Attorney-General's Department,