Freedom of Information

The object of the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) is to extend, as far as possible, the Australian community's right of access to information in the possession of the Australian Government.

The FOI Act also provides review options for people:

  • who have sought access to documents under the Act
  • who are not satisfied with the response of an Australian Government department or agency to their request.

The FOI Act requires decisions on access to be made promptly and at low cost.

The FOI Act allows refusal of requests for documents for specific reasons related to the work of government or the interests of third parties, and all decisions are subject to internal and external review.

Making an FOI request

The FOI Act applies to the documents held by most Australian Government agencies. It also applies to documents held by Ministers that relate to the affairs of those agencies.

An agency must make a decision about an FOI application within 30 days. An extension may apply where:

  • there is a need for third party consultation
  • there are charges imposed, or
  • for other reasons set out in the FOI Act.

There is no application fee. Processing charges may apply under certain circumstances. Charges may be reduced or waivered on grounds including hardship or the public interest.

You must make an FOI request in writing. You can submit a request to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office) in any of the following ways:

The Office may be able to provide certain kinds of documents outside the FOI Act, such as documents previously provided by the complainant or to them by our Office.

Internal review

If we make an FOI decision that you disagree with, you can ask:

  • for the decision to be reviewed
  • for a different officer (usually someone more senior) to conduct the review.

There is no charge for an internal review.

Once you receive a decision, you must apply for a review within 30 days. You should contact our Office if you wish to seek an extension. The Office must make a review decision within 30 days. If it does not do so, the original decision stands.

Going through our internal review process:

  • gives us the opportunity to reconsider our initial decision
  • your needs may be met more quickly without undergoing an external review process.

Review by the Australian Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner is an independent office holder. They can review the decisions of agencies and ministers under the FOI Act. You may apply to the Information Commissioner for review.

There is no fee to apply for a review by the Information Commissioner.

Complaints

You may also complain to the Australian Information Commissioner about actions of an agency related to the processing of a request. The Information Commissioner can investigate issues such as:

  • delays
  • refusal or failure to act.

For further information visit the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

Charges

Under the FOI Act, agencies cannot charge a processing fee for personal information. Our Office mostly receives FOI requests relating to personal information, so we would rarely issue a charge to an applicant.

In the event the FOI Co-ordinator decides the Office will issue a charge, it will be calculated in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Charges) Regulations 1982.