Process timing tips
Timing under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) can be everything. Decisions must be delivered by the end of the processing period but ‘the processing period’ can vary: third parties are consulted, CENs are issued, and clocks stop and start.
Here are some tips to keep your applications ticking along smoothly:
- Clearly mark key dates on the inside cover of your file
- Always ask for extensions of time in business days rather than to specific dates
- Remember: the first day of an event (for example, receiving a valid application) is day zero; the next day is day one
- Day zero happens when the agency receives the valid application, not the RTI officer who will be handling it
- Days do not end at close of business; if a valid application is emailed to your agency at 11:30pm on 12 January, then 12 January is day zero
- The revision period covers the entire CEN process and remember: you and the applicant can agree to extend it
- Public holidays (including local show holidays) don’t count as part of the processing period, but any other office closures do; ask the applicant for extra time if you need it
- Internal reviews must be decided in 20 business days; this timeframe can never be extended.
When timing goes wrong
Getting the timing slightly wrong can cause particular difficulties where there are third parties involved, as illustrated below.
- The applicant applies for access to documents under the RTI Act. The agency identifies 100 pages and consults an interested third party in relation to 20 of the pages
- In its initial decision, the agency decides to give access to 80 pages and refuse access to the 20 pages of interest to the third party
- The applicant seeks internal review of the agency’s decision. On internal review, the decision-maker decides to give access to the 20 pages, contrary to the third party’s objections. However, the internal review decision is made 21 business days after the application for internal review
- The third party applies to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) for external review of the agency’s decision. However, as the internal review decision was made one business day outside of the 20 business day period for making an internal review decision, the agency’s principal officer is taken under section 83(2) of the RTI Act to have made a decision affirming the original decision.
In this situation, OIC would not accept the third party’s application for external review, as legally, the agency has decided to affirm the original decision to refuse access to the 20 pages of interest to the third party.
Under the RTI Act, the agency is required to advise the access applicant that the original decision refusing access to the documents has been affirmed – even though the agency has previously purported to give the access applicant a decision granting access to these documents.
The access applicant may then wish to seek external review of the deemed decision to refuse access to the documents.
For more information on timing, visit our guidelines.