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The FYI of FOI

The Freedom of Information Act 1991 (SA) (the FOI Act) gives everyone the right to request access to documents held by public agencies, including universities.

Did you know that over 220,000 Freedom of Information applications have been submitted to public agencies in South Australia since 1992? On average about 15 applications per year are made to the 3 universities in the State.*

Why FOI?

The object of the FOI Act is to promote openness and public accountability. In this spirit, all documents within the scope of an FOI request must be made available to the person requesting, unless a valid exemption applies – e.g. if the document contains confidential or personal information of a third party.

How does the University deal with FOI requests?

All FOI requests for University records should be directed to the University’s FOI Officer.

To process a request, the FOI Officer will usually require assistance from relevant local areas to search for and collate documents within the scope of the request. A document can be a letter, email, file note, research records, minutes from meetings and even data logs that can be produced from a system. If you receive a request from an FOI Officer, you must cooperate with that request. Action taken to avoid FOI requests or conceal some types of records could result in an investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

Individuals or local areas don’t have discretion to decide what can or can’t be released. If you have concerns about the release of any part of a document, you can raise those concerns to the FOI Officer. The FOI Officer will decide if a document (or any portion of it) is eligible to be exempted from release, based on the criteria set out in the Act. The applicant’s motive for making a FOI request is rarely relevant.

What happens once an FOI request is responded to?

If the FOI applicant is dissatisfied with the decision (e.g. if documents have been withheld, or the applicant is not satisfied that all documents within scope have been identified), the applicant can ask the University to conduct an internal review. If still unsatisfied with the internal review, the applicant can apply for external review by the SA Ombudsman or South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The Ombudsman or Tribunal may, upon review, direct that additional documents be released.

*SA Freedom of Information Annual Report 2015-16

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