The Right to Information Act 20091 (RTI Act) creates a right of access to documents in the possession or control of Queensland agencies, subject to certain exclusions and exceptions.2 The RTI Act specifies the time periods within which actions must be taken when processing a formal application, including the time by which a decision on the application must be given to the applicant.
This guideline explains how to calculate the time periods for making a decision.
Counting business days
Timeframes in the RTI Act are calculated in business days.3 A business day is a day which is not a weekend or a holiday4 in the place where the agency is making their RTI decision.5 This may differ between agencies: RTI Units in Brisbane will have a public holiday for the Exhibition Show Day. For RTI Units in other cities that day will be an ordinary business day.
If the RTI Unit is shut down on a day which is not a weekend or holiday, the day will be counted as a business day. This includes unplanned closures, for example because of extreme weather events, and planned closures such as any Christmas/New Year shut down.
When does a day end?
A business day includes the entire day, beginning at 12:00am and ending at 11:59pm; it does not end when the agency’s office closes for the day. For example, a decision notice could be emailed to an applicant at 11:58pm on the due date as long as you were certain it would arrive by 11:59pm.
When do you start counting?
The timeframes in which an agency must do something under the RTI Act are triggered by a specific event, for example the processing period is triggered by the arrival of a valid application.
When calculating timeframes you do not count the day on which the event occurs (referred to here as Day Zero). This also applies when the event occurs on a day that is not a business day. For example, if your agency receives a valid RTI application on a weekend or holiday this will be Day Zero; the next business day will be Day One of the processing period.
The processing period begins to run as soon as a valid application arrives in the agency, not the day it arrives in the RTI Unit. It is important that RTI applications are sent to the RTI Unit as quickly as possible.
When do timeframes end?
If the last day of a timeframe is not a business day, the time frame ends on the next business day. For example, if Day 24 of the processing period was on Friday, and the following Monday was a public holiday, the decision notice would be due on Tuesday, because that is the next business day.
When is notice taken to be given?
An applicant must be given a notice of decision by the end of the processing period. Even if the decision is made before the end of the processing period, if it is not given to the applicant before the processing period ends the decision will become a deemed refusal of access to all documents.
For this reason, it will be helpful to deliver the notice of decision by email or fax, if the applicant is happy to receive them that way. If this is not possible, you will have to deliver decision notices by post, taking into account Australia Post’s timeframes for ordinary delivery.6
Where an Act allows a document to be served by post, service is carried out by properly addressing, prepaying and posting the document as a letter.7 Notice is taken to be ‘given’ at the time in which the letter would be delivered in the ordinary course of business, unless the contrary is proved.
Extra time to make a decision
You can ask the applicant for extra time to make your decision at any time before the end of the processing period. This extra time is called the further specified period. This time should be requested in business days. The applicant does not have to agree to the request; as long as they do not refuse and do not seek an external review8, you can keep working on the application.
The applicant’s agreement is not necessary to rely on the extra time requested. However, even if the applicant does agree to give you the extra business days, they can revoke their agreement, or seek an external review, at any time during the additional time.
This further specified period is not part of the processing period. It begins when the processing period ends.9 You can request as many extensions as you require to process the application but you must request each additional extension before the prior extension period ends.
Jane is processing Bob’s access application. On the last day of the processing period she asks for an extension of 10 business days. Five business days after the date of Jane’s request Bob sends an email declining the request. Jane has not yet made a decision on this day. Jane will have to refund Bob's application fee and send him a notice of deemed decision as she has not been able to make a considered decision to replace the deemed decision.
For information on dealing with specific timeframes under the RTI Act, please see these guidelines:
- 1 And chapter 3 of the Information Privacy Act 2009 (IP Act).
- 2 References to agencies include a Minister.
- 3 With the exception of section 54(5)(b) of the IP Act, which refers only to days rather than business days. For calendar days you count every day, including weekdays and public holidays.
- 4 Declared under the Holidays Act 1983: a special, bank or public holiday.
- 5 Schedule 1 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (AI Act).
- 6 Regular mail delivery timeframes are available from the Australia Post website at www.auspost.com.au.
- 7 Section 39A of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954.
- 8 See section 35(3)(c) of the RTI Act, which allows an agency to continue working on the application unless they receive notice that the applicant has applied for a review.
- 9 Section 18(2)(b) of the RTI Act, definition of processing period.
Current as at: October 6, 2015