What is a ‘document’ for the purposes of the RTI and IP Acts?

February 1, 2014 - 11:29am

The External Review Team has developed some tips when considering the definition of a ‘document’ under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act).

This is an important question as only documents, as specifically defined in the legislation, are subject to the formal access and amendment application processes. While the full definitions are set out in the RTI Act, here is a quick reminder:

  • Documents include those articles set out in the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) (see below)
  • The document must be one in the possession, or under the control, of the agency or Minister
  • A document of a Minister must also relate to the affairs of an agency
  • There are certain documents to which the Acts do not apply, as set out in the schedules.

A ‘document’ is defined in the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) to include:

  • any paper or other material on which there is writing
  • any paper or other material on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for a person qualified to interpret them; and
  • any disc, tape or other article or any material from which sounds, images, writings or messages are capable of being produced or reproduced (with or without the aid of another article or device).

This is a non-exhaustive definition, i.e. it doesn’t exclude or limit the type of articles that may be considered to be ‘documents’.

Tip: Some documents which are often overlooked, but are subject to the RTI and IP Acts, are post-it notes, drafts and notebooks.

What about duplicates?

It seems like common sense that an access applicant would only seek one copy where there are exact duplicates of a document, particularly to reduce processing time and cost for the applicant. However, the RTI and IP Acts are silent in this regard.

Therefore, agencies and Ministers must consider duplicates to be within scope unless they are specifically excluded by the applicant.

An effective way of dealing with exact duplicates can be to advise the applicant that to reduce costs and time duplicates will be considered to be out of scope unless the applicant advises the agency or Minister otherwise by a certain date before the decision is due.

This can be achieved by including an explanatory paragraph in the standard acknowledgement letter, or dealt with by a telephone call to the applicant.

Tip: A document must not be considered to be a duplicate where it contains additional handwritten notations or other information.