What is the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) (GIPA Act) and how does it work?
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) (GIPA Act) replaces the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (NSW) and has repealed Section 12 of the Local Government Act.
NSW government agencies, including local councils are required to release information as set out in the GIPA Act. In accordance with the GIPA Act.
Section 12 of Local Government Act 1993 - Repealed
With the commencement of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, Section 12 of the Local Government Act 1993 has been repealed. The same information is now accessible under Schedule 1 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
What is 'government information'?
Government information means information contained in a record held by an agency. Record means any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written form or by electronic process, or in any other manner or by any other means. The knowledge of a person is not a record.
How do I get government information?
There are four ways in which government information will be available.
- Mandatory release: This generally includes information found on this website. Such as the Council's policy documents, current publication guide, disclosure log and register of government contracts.
- Proactive release: These are additional documents that are made available to the public on this website.
- Informal request: This is for specific information. Under the GIPA Act Council can choose to release information without the need for a formal access application. Access via this path may be subject to reasonable conditions such as photocopying charges. Please complete an Informal (General) Request Application Form and submit to Council.
- Formal access application: If you haven't been able to obtain the information you need through any other form of access you can a formal access application. Unlike the informal request you have a legally enforceable right to be provided with access unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of the information. An application fee and processing charges may apply. Please complete a Formal GIPA Application Form and submit to Council with the application fee.
How is my privacy protected under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW)?
Government information sometimes identifies people. Under the GIPA Act a record that would reveal an individual's personal information would not generally be disclosed unless there are strong public interest considerations in favour of disclosure. In deciding whether to disclose personal information about you to a person applying for access to information, Council will consider whether you are likely to be concerned about the release of the information and whether those concerns are relevant to the public interest. If so Council will:
- consult with you; and
- take into account any objections you may have to the release of the information.
If the Council consults you and decides to release the information anyway they:
- must tell you of this decision and your right to have it reviewed; and
- must not release the information while you still have the right to seek review.
How do I make a formal application for information? How much does it cost?
Any person can make a formal application for access to information held by Council. This should be the last resort, after the informal avenues have been tried. A valid formal application for access to government information must:
- be in writing; state that it is made under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW); have an Australian postal address for return correspondence;
- provide enough details to help the agency identify the information you want; and
- enclose the application fee of $30.
If Council decides to provide you with access to the information, you may be asked to pay a further processing charge. Processing costs $30 per hour and covers time needed to deal efficiently with the application. If you seek access to your own personal information, the first 20 hours of processing time are free of charge.
What can I do if I can't afford to pay the fees?
Applicants may be entitled to a 50% reduction of processing charges on financial hardship grounds, or if the information requested is of special benefit to the public generally. In order to apply supporting documentation, such as a healthcare card, needs to be attached to the application. Alternatively the scope of the search can be amended in order to reduce fees.
How will an agency process my application?
Council has up to five days from the day they receive your application to consider it and let you know whether or not it is valid. If Council decides your application is invalid it will provide you with reasonable assistance to make a valid application. Council will search its records for any relevant information that may pertain to your requested scope. If applicable, Council will then send you a cost estimate and request an advance deposit. Council may need to consult other people, businesses or government bodies in order to ascertain if the information can be released. When consultation is completed, Council will provide you with the information unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure (public interest test) or the information is excluded.
How long will my application take?
Your application should be processed within 20 working days, unless consultation is required, if payment of advance deposit is pending or if you agree to extend the time. If Council does not decide your access application within 20 days, unless otherwise agreed, it is considered "refused". Your application fee will be refunded and you may seek internal or external review of this refusal.
Can an agency refuse my request for information? What are my review rights?
Agencies can refuse your request if:
- the information you have asked for is already publicly available;
- you have not paid a deposit;
- your request would take an unreasonable amount of time to process;
- or there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.
You have three options if you have been refused access to information:
- Internal review: You can apply to Council for an internal review. The review will be conducted by someone more senior than the original decision maker. There is a $40 fee and you have 20 working days from receiving notice of a decision to ask for an internal review.
- Review by the Information Commissioner: If you are not satisfied with the internal review, or do not want one, you can ask for a review by the Information Commissioner. You have eight weeks from being notified of a decision to ask for this review.
- Review at the Administrative Decisions Tribunal: If you are not satisfied with the decision of the Information Commissioner or the internal reviewer or if you do not want to take these options you can apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (ADT). If you have already had a review by the Information Commissioner you have four weeks from notification of the decision to make this application. If you haven't had a review by the Information Commissioner you have eight weeks from notification of the decision to make this application.
Is any government information excluded?
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) provides a list of excluded information that, in the public interest, must not be disclosed.
Will other people have access to the information released to me?
If you receive information after making a formal application, and Council believes that the information may of interest to other members of the public, it will be available on the "disclosure log" which may be downloaded. The disclosure log describes the information that was provided to the applicant and, if it is available to other members of the public, how they can access it.
You can object to information being included in the disclosure log if it includes personal information about you or about a deceased person that you personally represent; the information concerns your business, commercial, professional, or financial interests or research undertaken.
What is in the public interest?
Before releasing government information Council must compare the public interest in accessing the information to the public information in refusing access to that information.
Council can only refuse access to information if the public interest against disclosure outweighs the general public interest in favour of disclosure.
There are only limited and specific interests against disclosure that an agency can take into account. These are:
- law enforcement and security;
- individual rights,judicial processes and natural justice;
- responsible and effective government;
- business interests;
- environment, culture, economy and other matters;
- and secrecy and exemption provisions in other laws.
There is no limit to the matters an agency may take into account in favour of releasing information.
Can Council release information about my business?
Council may release information about your business in response to an access application, however, the decision will be subject to the public interest test. If an access application covers your business information, Council must consult you to see whether or not you object to the information being released. Your objection must relate to one or more of the five public interest considerations against disclosure set out in the Act.
If Council decides that, on balance, the public interests against disclosure outweigh those for disclosure, then the information will not be released. If Council decides to release your business information, despite your objection, you have a right to have this decision reviewed under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW).
For further information please visit or contact:
Office of the Information Commissioner www.oic.nsw.gov.au
Riverina Water County Council
Ph: (02) 6922 0608
Fax: (02) 6921 2241