It is important for all employees in public sector agencies to understand their role in their agency's commitment to and facilitation of an open government. This Guideline provides a basic overview for public sector employees who do not work directly with the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act).1 It outlines the importance of informal and administrative access to government information, the RTI application process, and the expectations and responsibilities of staff when an RTI application is received.
Increase access to information
The RTI Act promotes the release of information and clarifies that formal access applications under the RTI Act should be used only as a last resort. Under the RTI Act, all public sector information is open to the community as a starting point. Information can only be withheld by agencies if there is a good reason not to disclose it, such as protection of privacy.
This means it is important that you:
- Become familiar with your agency's policies and arrangements about release of information, both administratively and under other legislation. For example, does your agency have processes for people to access certain types of information (eg registers or through the public relations unit)? Alternative processes may have eligibility criteria or fee requirements. Are certain people in your agency authorised to release certain information? What are you authorised to release?
- Provide information informally and administratively wherever possible, (subject to agency policy or legal requirements), unless there is a good reason not to (for example, it would result in a breach of the information privacy principles or it would not be disclosed if applied for under the RTI Act). If you are unsure about whether you are authorised to release information generally, or if specific information can be released, check with your Unit Manager or the agency’s RTI and IP Unit if appropriate.2
- Become familiar with your agency's publication scheme. A publication scheme 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. A publication scheme is usually available on the agency's website. It may be that the information being sought is already publicly available through the publication scheme.
- Understand the process for including information in your agency's publication scheme so that you can submit new information. This might include, for example: new reports or data of interest to your agency's stakeholders or internal policies that would demonstrate to the public how certain decisions are made. If you are aware of documents which are not publicly available but could be, bring this to the attention of the area responsible for the publication scheme.
- Also notify this area if you notice that any publication scheme information is out of date, inaccurate or if webpage links have changed.
- Assist people to understand how to obtain the information they are seeking, by telling them:
- what type of information is held by the agency
- where they can find the information on the website; or
- how to contact the relevant part of the agency that may be able to provide them with the information.
- If you are aware that the information is or may be held by another agency, direct the person to the relevant agency.
Know the process
It is important that you know which area of your agency manages and responds to access applications under the RTI Act and Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act).3 This will ensure that information requests which you or your unit cannot deal with informally are directed to the appropriate area of your agency as quickly as possible. In order to advise a person about making a formal application, it is important that you are familiar with key aspects of the process.
You can direct them to:
- the approved application form at the Right to Information and Information Privacy website or your agency's RTI web page (if the form appears there)
- your agency's RTI Unit or contact person for further guidance with specific queries regarding their application
- resources available on the OIC website, such as How do I apply for government documents?.
Making an application under the RTI Act or the IP Act does not necessarily mean that all of the information sought will be released. If there are legitimate reasons under the legislation not to disclose it, (for example, it may be someone else’s personal information or the information may be protected by legal professional privilege) the information may be held back. Even if there are legitimate reasons not to disclose information, your agency still has a discretion to release it. These decisions are made by the decision makers within the RTI Unit.
Under the RTI Act and the IP Act, a person has a right to apply for documents in the possession or control of an agency or a Minister. The term 'document' captures a broad range of information formats, including hard copy and electronic files, handwritten notes, video or voice recordings and Braille. Under the Public Records Act 2002 (Qld) a 'public record' means recorded information, regardless of format, created or received by a public authority in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs that provides evidence of the business of the authority.
You have a legal obligation under the Public Records Act 2002 (Qld) to keep up-to-date and accurate records to ensure that when information is requested it can be identified and provided where appropriate. You are obliged to help your agency manage records systematically and appropriately so that they are able to be identified and located easily. Do not keep public records in your own personal filing system that no-one else can access. Check with your information management unit if you have questions about how particular records should be filed.
Generally correspondence, a work diary, post-it notes on files, work notebooks and emails sent or received via work email addresses fall within the scope of the RTI Act and IP Act and therefore might potentially be disclosed under this legislation.
The Public Records Act 2002 (Qld) requires public records to be retained for as long as they are required for business purposes. The disposal of public records can only occur with the approval of the State Archivist. This means that normally public records can only be disposed of in accordance with a Retention and Disposal Schedule approved by the State Archivist.
Providing documents to RTI and IP decision makers
As part of the formal application process you may at times be required to provide particular documents that fall within the scope of an access request. It is imperative that you provide all relevant documents to the RTI Unit in full so that the decision maker can process the application and consider whether information will be released. This includes records kept in your agency’s recordkeeping system and work-related documents kept in any 'personal filing system'. It also includes relevant work diaries, post-it notes and notepads etc.
Requests for documents that need to be processed through the RTI Unit must be processed promptly and efficiently as the legislation has strict timeframes for dealing with an application.
If you have concerns about the release of any of the documents it is important that you let the RTI Unit know of your concerns, including whether any other people may be concerned about disclosure. This will enable the decision maker to take your concerns into account when considering the application and applying the legislative requirements.
If all of the relevant documents are not provided, the applicant may request an external review by the Office of the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner has powers under the RTI Act and the IP Act relating to locating documents, such as requiring further searches, requiring a person to produce particular documents or to appear before the Information Commissioner.
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 Your agency's RTI and Privacy officers may be able to assist you in considering whether release of information would raise information privacy issues or would not generally be disclosed under the RTI legislative process. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) also has a range of guidelines and other resources available. The OIC Enquiries Service provides general assistance about how the RTI and IP legislation operates; contact details are listed below.
- 3 For the purposes of the Guideline, this unit is referred to as the RTI Unit.
Current as at: April 13, 2017