Allanson and Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation
(1996 S0192, 30 December 1997)
The applicant made two extremely broad-ranging access applications to the Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation (the QTTC). One access application sought access to 50 separate categories of documents, and the other to 29 separate categories of documents. The QTTC did not process either access application, and the applicant applied to the Information Commissioner seeking external review, on the basis of a deemed refusal of access (see s.79(1) of the FOI Act). The QTTC submitted that the Information Commissioner did not have jurisdiction to deal with the application for external review, because the applicant's FOI access applications were invalid, the applicant having failed to pay a required $30 application fee at the time each access application was made.
The Information Commissioner held that the QTTC's objection to jurisdiction was invalid, in circumstances where the QTTC had not complied with the obligations imposed on it by s.27(2)(c) and s.27(5) of the FOI Act to decide whether a $30 application fee was payable in respect of each FOI access application, and, if so, to notify the applicant in writing of its decision. In such circumstances, the applicant must still have the right to invoke the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner under s.79 of the FOI Act, in order to ensure that her FOI access applications were properly processed. The Information Commissioner summarised the practical effect of my decision at paragraphs 18 and 19 as follows:
18. In practical terms, this means that if an applicant applies to an agency for access under the FOI Act to a document that does not concern the applicant's personal affairs, but omits to pay the $30 application fee required by s.6 of the FOI Regulation at the time the access application is made, the access application is not a mere nullity (as contended in the respondent's submission). The access application will still be one that an agency is obliged to deal with, at least to the extent of discharging the obligations imposed by s.27(2)(c) and s.27(5) of the FOI Act (and perhaps other obligations such as those imposed by s.25(4) or s.28(4) of the FOI Act). And the access application will still constitute "an application [that] has been made to an agency under [the FOI] Act", within the terms of s.79(1)(a) of the FOI Act, for the benefit of an applicant who wishes to invoke s.79(1).
19. If, however, the agency gives the applicant written notice, in accordance with s.27(2)(c) and s.27(5) of the FOI Act, of its decision that a $30 application fee is payable in respect of the access application, the applicant will not be entitled to have the agency process the access application or to obtain access to the requested documents, until the applicant pays the $30 application fee, or successfully challenges the agency's decision that a $30 application fee was payable. In the meantime, time would cease to run for the purposes of the application of s.79 of the FOI Act, because the applicant has received notice of a decision on the application, i.e., that the applicant is not entitled to have the agency process the access application, or to obtain access to the requested document(s), until the $30 application fee required under s.6(1) of the FOI Regulation is paid. In my view, time would commence to run again, for the purposes of the application of s.79 of the FOI Act, from the date when the $30 application fee is subsequently paid, or from the date on which the decision to require payment of a $30 application fee is overturned by a decision on a review under s.52, or under Part 5 of the FOI Act.
The QTTC also submitted that it was entitled to refuse to deal with the applications under s.28(2) of the FOI Act, on the basis that the work involved in dealing with the application would, if carried out, substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the agency from their use by the agency in the performance of its functions. The QTTC provided a statutory declaration describing the resources available to the QTTC in processing the access applications, and an estimate of the amount of work required to process the access applications. Taking this into account, together with the statutorily prescribed functions of the QTTC, and the enormous breadth of the access applications, the Information Commissioner decided that the QTTC should refuse to deal with the access applications pursuant to s.28(2) of the FOI Act.