This Information Sheet explains why the public interest is considered when an agency decides whether to give access to documents applied for under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act)1.
The main purpose of the RTI Act is to give a right of access to Queensland government information unless, on balance, giving access would be contrary to the public interest. The agency is required to work out if giving access would be contrary to the public interest by applying the exempt information provisions and public interest factors to the documents you want to access.
Exempt information provisions relate to information that Parliament has already decided is contrary to the public interest to disclose. For more information, see What is Exempt Information.
If the information is not exempt the agency must consider the lists of public interest factors contained in the RTI Act. The agency will weigh up all the relevant factors for and against disclosure and decide if, on balance, releasing the information would be contrary to the public interest.
Just because information interests you doesn’t mean it is in the public interest to release it. Generally, for something to be in the public interest it needs to affect more than just your private or personal interests. It needs to affect a significant part of the public or community. This is reflected in the public interest factors for disclosure, which include promoting government accountability, discussion of public affairs, effective oversight of government funds, and protection of the environment.
However, in some circumstances your private interests and the public interest can align. This can be the case, for example, where you’re seeking information to pursue a legal action2 or seeking medical information of a deceased family member to ensure your own health3.
Balancing the public interest is not a simple maths equation: two factors for disclosure and only one factor against disclosure does not necessarily mean the information will be disclosed. When looking at the documents the agency must consider all relevant factors for and against disclosure. After identifying the relevant public interest factors the agency decides how important each factor is and how much ‘weight’ to give to it.
Current as at: December 7, 2018