In this legal update, we look at the changes to fees and charges for FOI requests that have recently been announced as part of the broader reforms to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act). These changes were announced by the Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, the Hon Brendan O'Connor MP (Minister). The majority of these measures, including the changes to fees and charges, commenced on 1 November 2010 and are intended to encourage a more pro-disclosure culture with respect to government information. For further details in relation to these FOI reforms, see our previous legal update.
The key changes to FOI fees and charges are as follows:
- the $30.00 application fee for FOI requests by all applicants has been abolished
- the charges for decision-making time (previously $20.00 per hour), have been reduced so that the first five hours are free and any subsequent decision-making time is charged at $20.00 per hour
- the fee for internal reviews (previously $40.00) has been abolished
- fees no longer apply if an applicant is not notified of an FOI decision within the statutory time limits in the FOI Act, and
- fees no longer apply to FOI requests in respect of personal information of the applicant.
There is no change to the current charges for time spent searching and retrieving documents in response to an FOI request ($15.00 per hour).
According to the Minister, these changes are part of the largest ever overhaul of the FOI Act and evidence that the Commonwealth Government is committed to improving transparency and accountability across government.
The changes will be of significant benefit to the private sector. In the 2008-09 financial year, a total of 27,561 FOI requests were made to Commonwealth Government Ministers and agencies. A total of $175,514 was collected for FOI application fees and internal review application fees, and a total of $1,739,706 was levied for other FOI charges. The reduction in FOI fees and charges will remove some of the cost barriers for those seeking access to Commonwealth government information and is likely to lead to an increased volume of FOI requests.
The establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the new statutory appointments of the Australian Information Commissioner and Freedom of Information Commissioner, who have powers to review FOI decisions and investigate complaints, will also allow for greater transparency in the FOI application process, including decision to impose fees and charges. For an overview of the structure of the OAIC and key aspects of its functions and powers, see our previous legal update.
According to the Minister, the Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, will undertake a comprehensive review of FOI fees and charges within twelve months of his appointment.
We have extensive experience in the areas of freedom of information and information access and have been following the Commonwealth FOI reforms closely. Please contact us if you require advice or assistance in relation to obtaining access to Commonwealth government information under the FOI Act.