Australia’s Freedom of Information system is broken. At the federal level, government bodies routinely reject FOI requests from journalists, civil society organisations and the public on spurious grounds. Instead of making it easy for people to find out what is going on, Government agencies appear to be trying to keep secret as much information as possible.
All of this means that vulnerable communities are unable to interrogate policies or decisions that affect them and the Government is less accountable to the people.
Grata Fund has interviewed journalists, individuals and representatives of civil society organisations to understand the Federal government’s approach when processing FOI requests.
We have identified a list of FOI exemptions and approaches used by Federal Government ministers and agencies that we believe are often applied unlawfully:
- FOIs inappropriately refused on the basis that the documents are subject to cabinet confidentiality
- FOIs refused because of a change in or resignation of a Minister
- FOIs seeking Text Messages, Whatsapp, Signal or other electronic messaging platforms that are unreasonably refused
- Unreasonable delay by the Office of the Information Commissioner (‘OAIC’) in decision-making on reviews of FOIs by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Overuse of exemptions without substantiation by Government agencies or ministers, in particular:
- personal privacy (s 47F),
- certain operations of agencies (s 47E),
- enforcement of law and public safety (s 37),
- deliberative processes (s 47C),
- confidential information (s 45), and
- trade secrets and commercially valuable information (s 47).
Grata is interested in supporting cases in these areas - so if you’ve had an FOI request refused on one or more of these grounds, please get in touch.