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The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act) provides a legally enforceable right of access to government documents. It applies to Australian Government ministers and most agencies. If you are involved in a litigation or a dispute and require information from a government agency, applications must be made in writing.

The FOI Act gives any person the right to:

  • access copies of documents (except exempt documents) that the government agency holds;
  • ask for information the agency holds about you to be changed or annotated if it is incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading; or
  • seek a review of the agency’s decision not to allow you access to a document or not to amend your personal record.

Government agencies can refuse access to some documents, or parts of documents that are exempt. Exempt documents may include those relating to national security, documents containing material obtained in confidence and Cabinet documents, or other matters set out in the FOI Act.

How do I make a FOI request?

You must make the FOI request to the specific government agency. If one particular agency receives the documents that you request from another agency, the FOI Act provides that the first agency transfer the request to that other agency.

Applications must:

  • Be in writing or lodged electronically;
  • Clearly describe the documents you are requesting access to;
  • Include the application fee (if needed) or evidence that you qualify to have the application fee waived; and
  • Be made to the agency that holds the documents you are seeking. You must state that the request is an application for the purposes of the FOI Act.

You will need to give evidence of your identity with your application. If another person is requesting documents on your behalf, the agency will require a signed letter of authorisation from you as well as proof of your identity and the identity of that other person.

Does the FOI Act apply to court documents?

The FOI Act does not apply to court documents including court transcripts. You can access court documents directly on the applicable court website, as well as transcripts. Confidential documents, court documents relating to national security or Cabinet documents cannot be released under the FOI Act. However, you can ask to see any document relating to the management and administration of the Court’s registry and office resources that the Court holds. Access can be refused to documents, or parts of documents, that are exempt.

LegalVision cannot provide legal assistance with this topic. We recommend you contact your local law society.

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