Key published decisions applying section 41 RTI Act

Middleton and Building Services Authority (Unreported, Queensland Information Commissioner, 24 December 2010)

The applicant sought access to all documents relating to her property, all complaints against two building companies and various other documents. The Building Services Authority (BSA) decided not to deal with the application on the grounds that it would substantially and unreasonably divert the BSA's resources.

BSA submitted that the work required to identify, locate or collate the documents included:

  • processing 450 complaint files
  • processing 2500 to 3000 documents
  • preparing (removing staples, markers etc) and scanning files into electronic form for further editing; and
  • recording telephone or mail correspondence at a rate of 2-3 minutes per record.

BSA estimated that it would take 5 to 6 weeks of part-time processing to process 2500-3000 documents to be ready for checking by decision makers. BSA submitted the resources required in deciding whether or not to grant access included:

  • third party consultation with at least 315 parties
  • 3.5 full time decision makers to check 45-50 application forms each day would take 4 weeks to complete
  • time to update addresses of complainants to ensure security of the correspondence; and
  • resources allocated to collating the written responses, answering phone calls, following up with file notes and prescribed written notices.

The RTI Commissioner accepted evidence provided by BSA that it would be required to deal with approximately 450 complaint files. She also accepted BSA's estimation of the time involved in processing the application as it was based on BSA's previously collected data regarding the time taken to perform specific tasks. She considered that processing this application would involve a large volume of documents in relation to which, significant consultation would need to be undertaken. In view of the number and type of documents involved and the administrative processes needed to identify and deal with the documents she was satisfied that BSA's estimate of the resources and time required was realistic. [32]

The RTI Commissioner was satisfied that dealing with the application would divert BSA resources from their use in BSA functions and that such diversion would be both substantial, in the sense of being of considerable size, and unreasonable, given BSA’s resources which must be used in processing all access applications. [33]

60CDYY and Department of Education and Training [2017] QICmr 52A (7 November 2017)

The applicant sought access to documents about his three children, who were or had been students at three schools, covering a period of approximately 8 years, and including communications with specific staff. The Department decided not to deal with the access application on the basis that it would substantially and unreasonably divert the Department's resources.

In relation to the interpretation of 'substantial' and 'unreasonable', the Acting Right to Information Commissioner stated at paragraph [12] that:

The term 'substantially and unreasonably' is not defined in the RTI Act. It is therefore appropriate to consider the ordinary meaning of these words. 'Substantial' is relevantly defined as meaning 'considerable amount, quantity, size, etc.: a substantial sum of money' and 'of a considerable size or value: substantial funds'. 'Unreasonable' is relevantly defined as meaning 'exceeding the bounds of reason; immoderate; exorbitant' and 'immoderate; excessive: unreasonable demands'.

On external review, the applicant did not dispute the Department's submission that approximately 3,000 pages fell within the scope of the access application. OIC accepted the Department's 3,000 page estimate and the Department's submission that this number of pages would take approximately 150 hours to examine and mark up. OIC allowed an additional approximately 53 hours for other processing steps of locating, collating, examining, marking up, consulting third parties and deciding on access to the requested information.

OIC found that the approximately 203 hours required to process the application equated to approximately 28 working days for one decision-maker working full-time on the application, and performing no other work on any other matters over this period, OIC found that taking a decision-maker offline for such a long period to process the application, would, if carried out, substantially divert the Department's resources, and this diversion of the Department's resources was unreasonable.

Marigliano and Tablelands Regional Council [2018] QICmr 11 (15 March 2018)

Last updated: May 1, 2018