The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) came into effect on Norfolk Island on 1st January 2011. This means that you have a right to ask for access to documents held by the Administration of Norfolk Island (Administration), the Norfolk Island government agencies and certain documents of Norfolk Island ministers. This includes documents containing personal information about you, and information about government policies or programs.
Making a formal request under the FOI Act is one way of requesting access to government information. You may also ask the relevant department for access to the information sought, as some departments do not require the process of FOI to release information.
The FOI Act applies to Norfolk Island authorities. This includes public sector agencies; bodies established for a public purpose under the Norfolk Island Act (e.g. Norfolk Island Government Tourist Bureau and Norfolk Island Hospital Enterprise); bodies established by the Administrator or a Norfolk Island Minister; and statutory office holders. The FOI Act does not apply to companies, incorporated associations or the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island. The FOI Act only extends to official documents of Norfolk Island Ministers, that is, documents that relate to the affairs of a Norfolk Island authority.
Any person can request access under the FOI Act to documents held by Norfolk Island Administration or Ministers. They need not be a resident of Norfolk Island. If someone asks for documents that contain your personal or business information, you will have the right to be consulted in certain circumstances before the Administration or the minister decides to release the documents.
Access must be given to a document that is requested under the FOI Act unless the document is exempt. Your reasons for seeking access are not relevant to the decision about whether to release a document.
The FOI Act applies to documents created from 1st January 2006 (five years before the FOI Act commenced on Norfolk Island). It also applies to documents created before that date if they contain your personal, business, commercial or financial information, and documents that are reasonably necessary to enable a proper understanding of another document that you lawfully have access to.
Exempt documents that Administration or a Minister can refuse to release under the FOI Act include:
Other documents exempt from the FOI Act include documents available on a public register for a fee (such as land title register) and other documents available for purchase from a department.
There are also eight categories of ‘conditionally exempt’ documents. Those documents must be released unless their disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Conditionally exempt documents relate to:
In cases where the Administration or minister decides that only part of a document contains information that is exempt under the FOI Act, they may give you an edited version with the exempt content deleted. They can also decide to delete other information that is not relevant to the scope of your request. In these cases the decision maker should indicate where content has been edited and why.
The Administration must notify you within 14 days that they have received your request. The Administration may also consult you if your request is complex or large, and they cannot process it without spending an unreasonable amount of time or resources. The consultation process aims to help you refine the scope of your request.
There is no application fee for requesting access to a document under the FOI Act or asking for your personal information to be amended or annotated. However, the Administration may decide to charge you for the work involved in processing your request, except where the request concerns access to your own personal information.
The Administration must make a decision about your FOI request within 30 days of receiving it. The 30 day period may be extended:
The Australian Information Commissioner may also grant the Administration an extension in some circumstances. The Information Commissioner is an independent officer who has oversight of the FOI Act and can review decisions made by the Administration.
If you are unhappy with the decision on your FOI request, you have the right to ask for a review.
You can also complain to the Information Commissioner if you have concerns about how the Administration handled your request. Before doing so, you should contact the Administration directly to try to resolve your concerns.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner also publishes a range of FOI facts and other guidance that may be of interest at www.oaic.gov.au.