Storm and flood event impacts on RTI Act and IP Act timeframes

April 5, 2017 - 9:51am

The recent storm and flood events in Queensland may impact on the ability of agencies and applicants to meet the timeframes prescribed under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act) for making decisions, lodging applications for review and handling privacy complaints.

The following general information has been prepared to provide guidance to those applicants and agencies who may be concerned about meeting RTI Act and IP Act timeframes.

If you require further or more detailed guidance on your particular situation, please contact the OIC Enquiries Service on telephone 3234 7373 or by email to enquiries@oic.qld.gov.au.

Agency decision making

If your agency is due to make a decision on an access application within the coming weeks and is not able to issue the decision within the statutory timeframe due to the recent storm and flooding events, you can ask the applicant, under section 35 of the RTI Act (or section 55 of the IP Act) for extra time to make your decision. The applicant does not have to agree to the request; as long as they do not refuse and do not seek an external review, you can keep working on the application.

If a decision on an access application has not been made within the statutory timeframe due to the recent severe weather event, this will result in a deemed decision being made under section 46 of the RTI Act (or section 66 of the IP Act). The applicant will therefore be entitled to apply to OIC for external review of the deemed decision. Where an application is made to OIC for external review of a deemed decision, an agency may apply to OIC for further time to deal with the access application under section 93 of the RTI Act (or section 106 of the IP Act).

In deciding whether to allow an agency further time to deal with an application and deciding the appropriate amount of additional time, the Information Commissioner may take into account factors including:

  • length of time the agency was unable to operate due to the recent storm and flooding events
  • whether agency staff numbers were affected by the recent storm and flooding events.

External review applicants

The Information Commissioner has the discretion to extend the time in which applicants can apply for external review under the RTI Act and IP Act. In deciding whether to accept an application for external review made outside the statutory timeframe (20 business days), the Information Commissioner may take into account recent severe weather event related factors including:

  • whether your property was affected and if so, the length of time:
    • you were prevented from returning to your property, or
    • the length of time to make your property safe, habitable and/or to rectify any damage
  • whether your property was without power or essential services (incl. length of time)
  • whether mail deliveries to your property were suspended (incl. length of time).

If you wish to apply for an extension of time, you should set out details of the issues resulting from the recent storm or flooding event which have prevented you from making your application within time and provide these to OIC so they can be taken into consideration.

Current external reviews

For those applicants, agencies and third parties affected by the recent storm and flooding events, if you are unable to meet a timeframe set by OIC to provide submissions or further information in relation to an external review, please contact your review officer prior to the due date to request an extension of time:

Privacy complaints

If you lodge a privacy complaint with an agency, it has 45 business days in which to respond to your complaint. If at the end of that time period, the agency has not responded to your complaint or it has provided you with a response but you are dissatisfied with it, you are able to bring your privacy complaint to OIC.

Under section 168(1)(e) of the IP Act, OIC may decide to not accept your complaint if it considers that the agency has not yet had an adequate opportunity to deal with the complaint.

If the recent storm and flooding events impacted on the agency’s ability to deal with or respond sufficiently to your privacy complaint, OIC may decide to exercise its authority under section 168(1)(e) to not accept your complaint which would effectively remit the complaint back to the agency for a further period of time.

In deciding this course of action, the Privacy Commissioner may take into account factors including:

  • length of time the agency was unable to operate due to the recent storm and flooding events
  • whether agency staff numbers were affected by the recent storm and flooding events
  • the amount of further time required by the agency
  • whether, in the event the agency has provided a response, the agency would provide a different response if it had a further period of time.

Upon receipt of a privacy complaint, OIC will make preliminary inquiries of an agency whether its ability to deal with the complaint was affected by the recent storm and flooding events and as appropriate, require detailed information from the agency on the factors that will be taken into consideration.