Right to Information Applications
Applications for information can be made to any public authority or Minister (s13). The specifics of the information requested need not be known – how could the information be known before it is disclosed? The Act only requires ‘reference to the information contained in a particular document or record without specifying the subject matter’.
The difficulty with all administrative decisions is that decision making can be very subjective, despite guidelines. A decision maker has discretion to decide whether disclosure of the document would, for example ‘promote or harm public health or safety’. If a person requested the Minister of Health to disclose information about an outbreak of salmonella, the Minister or their delegated officer may decide that it would harm public health and/or safety to disclose the information, where another person may argue that it would promote public health and/or safety to have more information available. This is why there is an appeal process.
Under the Regulations, an application must contain the following information (s4):
- the name of the applicant;
- the address of the applicant, for communication on matters relating to the application;
- the daytime contact details of the applicant;
- the general topic of the application;
- details of the information sought by the applicant;
- details of any efforts undertaken by the applicant, before the application was made, to obtain the information sought;
- the date of the application;
- the signature of the applicant;
- if the application includes a request for personal information of the applicant, proof of identity of the applicant.
What information is required of the public authority for an application?
Public authorities must provide a minimum of information to an applicant about the assessment procedure (s5, Regulations). This information is:
- an outline of the objects of the Act;
- the address to which an application is to be made;
- a statement to the effect that an application is to be made in writing;
- the application fee payable under section 16 of the Act;
- the time within which an application is to be decided;
- a statement to the effect that an applicant may apply to the Ombudsman for a review, under section 45(1)(f) of the Act, of a decision, if the applicant has not received notice of the decision within the period specified in, or calculated under section 15.
Under section 15 an application for assessed disclosure must be answered within 20 working days of acceptance of the application. Negotiations over disclosure must occur within 10 working days of acceptance of the application. The time allowed for an answer can be extended by agreement with the applicant. If the request is both or either complex or voluminous in nature, the Ombudsman may extend the time allowed beyond 20 days(s15(4)).
The charges currently stand at 25 fee units per application. Fee units are altered each year in accordance with the consumer price index (CPI) for Hobart.