Frequently asked questions – Agencies
What is considered a document?
Document is a general term used to describe information held by Ministers and agencies. A document can be:
- a document in writing
- a photograph
- a book
- a map or plan
- a graph
- a drawing
- an audio recording or video recording
- a labelling and index systems
- a computer document, file or spreadsheet
- any words, figures, letters or symbols which contain meaning
Although many documents held by Ministers and agencies are stored digitally and are therefore easily accessible, some documents are held in hard copy (i.e. on paper, video, audio reel etc.). These documents are often housed in secondary storage facilities away from the Ministerial or agency offices.
What exemptions can be applied to documents?
An applicant is entitled to access a document unless the document is exempt. However, if it is possible to release a document with exempt material deleted, an agency is obliged to do so if the applicant so wishes.
While documents should be released with exempt material deleted wherever practicable this should not be done if the document as released would then be meaningless, misleading or unintelligible. More than one exemption may apply to a single document.
More information about the exemptions can be found here.
Publication of notice of decision
Why is OVIC publishing its notices of decision?
Publishing ‘de-identified’ notices of decisions made by the Information Commissioner is in line with the Information Commissioner’s aim to promote understanding and acceptance by agencies and the public of the FOI Act and its object.
The publication of notices of decisions also aims to promote transparency of OVIC’s regulatory role and ensure consistency in decisions.
Do other jurisdictions publish FOI review notices of decisions?
Yes. Many other states already publish FOI review decisions online, including the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
How will notices of decisions be published?
Decisions will be published on the OVIC website and the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) website. AustLII is a free online database of Australian legal information.
Will all OVIC notices of decision be published?
Yes, all notices of decision for review applications received by OVIC on or after 1 January 2019 will be published in de-identified form.
When will OVIC commence publishing its decisions online?
From 1 July 2019.
Has OVIC advised agencies and applicants on this change in process?
Yes. From 1 January 2019, OVIC has told agencies and applicants in our correspondence that decisions will be published.
Information on the pending publication of notices of decision has also been publicly available on the OVIC website since the start of 2019.
What details will be removed in the published notice of decision?
Personal information, such as names, dates of birth and addresses, will be removed in the de-identified decision. Agency and OVIC reference numbers will also be removed.
Will my Agency’s name and reference number be published?
Your Agency’s names will be published.
Your Agency’s FOI reference number will be removed from the decision prior to publication.
Will the name of my Agency’s FOI decision maker be published?
No. The details of any Agency’s FOI decision maker or other FOI officers will not be published. OVIC does not name agency decision makers or FOI officers in its decisions.
What details will be included in the published notice of decision?
- If the applicant is an organisation, the name of that organisation will generally be published (e.g. a media organisation or community action group);
- The name of the Agency;
- The decision outcomes; and
- The reasoning behind the decision.
Will any released documents be published or described in the notice of decision?
Documents associated with decisions will not be published by OVIC.
Descriptions of documents and/or general references to them will be included to improve transparency within the decision-making process and to provide clear reasons for the decision.
Will OVIC notify the agency prior to the publication of a notice of decision?
Yes. Both the agency and the applicant will receive the notice of decision directly from OVIC when a formal review application is finalised. This will occur prior to publication and all parties will be told that the decision will shortly be published, in de-identified form. More detailed information on the review process can be found here.
How soon after a notice of decision is provided to the Agency and Applicant will it be published?
Decisions will not be published earlier than five (5) business days after the date that the decision was sent out to the agency and the applicant.
Agencies are encouraged to raise any questions about the decision with OVIC as soon as possible after receiving the decision.