The Right to Information Act 20091(RTI Act), the privacy principles2, the Public Service Act 20083, and other sector and agency-specific legislation, policies, and standards create a framework for managing government information.
This Guideline provides an overview for public sector employees who do not work directly with the RTI Act. It outlines the importance of informal and administrative access to government information, the RTI application process, and the expectations and responsibilities of public sector employees when an application is received under the RTI Act. It is important for all employees in public sector agencies to understand their role in meeting their agency’s commitment to open government.
Increase access to information
The RTI Act promotes the release of information and mandates that formal access applications under the RTI Act should be a last resort. Wherever possible, information should be released informally or under an agency's administrative access policies. Under the RTI Act, information can only be withheld by agencies if releasing it would be contrary to the public interest.
It is important to:
- Know what arrangements your agency has for releasing information—both administratively and under other legislation. Are certain people authorised to release certain information? What are you authorised to release?
- If you are authorised to release information—do so as informally as possible, following your agency's policies and procedures unless there is a good reason not to (for example, it would result in a breach of the privacy principles or it would not be disclosed if applied for under the RTI Act).
If you don't know whether you're authorised to release information check with your Unit Manager or the agency’s RTI and IP Unit.4
- Learn about your agency's publication scheme—the information may be publicly available5—and about:
- the kinds of information your agency holds
- your agency's website and where information can be found on it; and
- how to contact the relevant parts of the agency responsible for different kinds of information.
Know the application process
You need to know what part of your agency is responsible for access applications made under the RTI Act.6 The RTI Act has strict time limits and must know where to send formal access applications and requests for information that can't be dealt with informally.
If someone asks how to make a formal access applications, you can direct them to:
- the approved application form at www.rti.qld.gov.au
- your agency’s RTI web page
- your agency’s RTI Unit or contact person for further guidance with specific queries regarding their application; and
- resources available on the OIC website, such as How do I apply for government documents?.
Under the RTI Act, anyone has the right to apply for documents in the possession or control of an agency or a Minister and they do not need to explain why they want documents. The term ‘document’ covers more than pieces of paper; it captures anything with information on it, such as electronic files, Post-It notes, video footage, work diaries, text messages and emails.
Your obligations under the RTI Act intersect with your obligations under the Public Records Act 2002 (Qld), and that means it's important to keep up-to-date and accurate records, allowing information applied for to be readily identified and located and records to be kept systematically and appropriately.
The obligations in the Public Records Act 2002 (Qld) apply to public records, which is a narrower category than documents under the RTI and IP Acts. It's important to remember that records must be retained, and can only be disposed of, in accordance with an approved retention and disposal schedule.
Providing documents to RTI decision makers
When processing access applications, your agency's RTI decision maker may ask you to send them documents. It is important that you send them complete copies of all relevant documents, including work-related documents kept in personal filing systems or on personal electronic devices or in private email accounts. These should be sent to the decision maker as quickly as possible, as they are working under very strict timeframes.
Providing documents to the decision maker does not mean they will automatically be released; the decision maker has to consider every document and apply the provisions of the Act as part of making their decision. If you have concerns about the documents, it is important to share those concerns. This will enable the decision maker to take them into account when making their decision.
If a decision maker does not receive all relevant documents, an applicant can take the matter on review to the Office of the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner has powers under the RTI Act relating to documents, such as requiring further searches, requiring a person to produce particular documents, and requiring a person to appear before the Information Commissioner.
Other rules about information release
The RTI Act is not the only legislation that relates to the release of information, although RTI access applications override any other Act that prohibits the release of information. It is important to be generally aware that there are other rules that may require or allow you to release information in specific circumstances, or rules that may limit, or prohibit, you from releasing information.
Some of these may apply only to your agency, for example confidentiality provisions in the Act or Acts relevant to your work , or some of them may apply to your government sector generally.
What are the consequences of not following these rules?
Depending on the nature of the rule and the reason it was not followed, a failure to comply could result in the removal of the information’s protection, a breach of an Act, or a breach of your ethical obligations. In some cases, offences and penalties will apply for the breach of an Act.
Rules which require the release of information
Information Standards; whole of government policies; legislative powers to compel information and documents, for example the powers of the Ombudsman, Auditor-General, the Coroner and the Crime and Corruption Commission; public records which have passed out of the restricted access period; and documents a court has ordered be produced, for example by way of a subpoena.
Rules which permit information release in specific circumstances
These are rules which permit information to be released when specific criteria are met or in specific circumstances. For example, releasing information to:
- provide natural justice/procedural fairness
- as part of giving a Statement of Reasons under the Judicial Review Act 1991
- place documents on a Disclosure Log under the RTI Act; and
- make a Public Interest Disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2011.
Rules which limit the release of information
These are rules which limit the release of information. Some of these may have exceptions built into them that apply in specific circumstances, similar to the above. These include:
- the IP Act's Information Privacy Principle 11 and National Privacy Principle 2, which prohibit disclosure of personal information
- Cabinet confidentiality
- legislative secrecy provisions
- legally privileged information; and
- trade secret information.
For information about how the RTI Act and IP Act operate within your agency please contact your agency’s RTI Unit. If you have any general queries regarding the operation of the legislation contact the OIC Enquiries Service on 3234 7373.
- 1 And equivalent provisions regarding access to information contained in the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld).
- 2 Which include the contracted service provider provisions contained in the IP Act.
- 3 Section 9 of the Public Service Act 2008 sets out that a person is a Public Service Employee if they are employed under that Act as a Public Service Officer, a general employee or a temporary employee. Section 8 provides that a Public Service Officer is a chief executive, a senior executive or an officer of another type.
- 4 Your agency’s RTI and Privacy officers may be able to assist you in considering whether information would raise information privacy issues if release or if it would not generally be disclosed under the RTI process. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) also has a range of guidelines and other resources available at www.oic.qld.gov.au. The OIC Enquiries Service provides general assistance about how the RTI and IP legislation operates; contact details are listed below.
- 5 A publication scheme is usually available on the agency’s website and sets out the types of agency documents that are publicly available, including financial information and information about the agency’s services, decisions, policies and priorities.
- 6 For the purposes of the Guideline, this unit is referred to as the RTI Unit.
Current as at: July 20, 2018