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Appendix E: FOI statistics

This appendix contains information regarding:

  • requests for access to documents
  • applications for amendment of personal records
  • charges
  • disclosure logs
  • review of freedom of information (FOI) decisions
  • complaints about agency FOI actions
  • the impact of FOI on agency resources
  • the impact of Information Publication Scheme (IPS) on agency resources.

It has been prepared using data collected from Australian Government agencies and ministers subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), and separately from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and records of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). Australian Government agencies and ministers are required to provide, among other details, information about:

  • the number of FOI requests made to them
  • the number of decisions they made granting, partially granting or refusing access, and the number and outcome of applications for internal review
  • the number and outcome of requests to them to amend personal records
  • charges collected by them.1

The data given by ministers and agencies for the preparation of this appendix is published on data.gov.au.2

Requests for access to documents

Types of FOI requests

The term ‘FOI request’ means a request for access to documents made under s 15 of the FOI Act. Applications for amendment or annotation of personal records under s 48 are dealt with separately below.

A request for personal information means a request for documents that contain information about a person who can be identified (usually the applicant, although not necessarily). A request for ‘other’ information means a request for all other documents, such as documents concerning policy development or government decision-making.

The FOI Act requires that agencies and ministers provide access to documents in response to requests that meet the requirements of s 15 of the FOI Act. The statistics in this annual report do not take account of requests that did not satisfy those requirements.

The Governor-General authorised 2 Administrative Arrangements Orders (AAOs) in 2019–20: on 8 August 2019 and 5 December 2019. These AAOs changed the functions and administrative responsibilities of some departments and agencies and resulted in changes to the number and composition of FOI requests received by the affected agencies during the year.

Number of FOI requests received


Table E.1 compares the number of FOI requests received in each of the past 6 reporting years, including the percentage increase or decrease from the previous financial year.

Table E.1: FOI requests received over the past 6 years
Table E.1: FOI requests received over the past 6 years

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Number of FOI requests received

35,550

37,966

39,519

34,438

38,879

41,333

% change from previous financial year

+25%

+7%

+4%

-13%

+13%

+6%

The number of FOI requests made to Australian Government agencies increased by 6% in 2019–20, to 41,333, the largest number of FOI requests received by the Australian Government since 2005–06.

As can be seen from Table E.2 (page 141), the increase in the number of FOI requests has principally been the result of increases in requests made to the 20 agencies that receive the highest number of FOI requests, in particular, Services Australia (formerly the Department of Human Services).

While some agencies have attributed increases in the number of FOI requests received during 2019–20 to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in total FOI requests (2,454 more than in 2019–20) is the direct result of a substantial increase in FOI requests made to Services Australia (2,672 more requests than in 2018–19).3 Services Australia states that during the second half of 2019–20 they experienced a surge in FOI requests from ‘a specific cohort of applicants who were seeking access to very similar document types’.

A number of agencies have attributed increases in the number of FOI requests they received in 2019–20 to the effect of machinery of government changes which changed or increased their roles and functions.

The increase in FOI requests was not uniform across all agencies and some agencies experienced significant declines in the number of FOI requests.

Number of FOI requests received by an agency or minister

In 2019–20, the Department of Home Affairs, Services Australia and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs together continued to receive the majority of FOI requests received by Australian Government agencies (70% of the total). Nearly all of these requests (95%) are from individuals seeking access to personal information.

The 20 agencies that received the largest number of requests in 2019–20 are shown in Table E.2 (page 141), with a comparison to the number of requests received by those agencies in 2018–19.

The agencies that experienced large increases in FOI requests in 2019–20 compared with 2018–19 include the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (+99%), the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment4 (+90%), the National Disability Insurance Agency (+82%), Services Australia (+43%), the Department of Defence (+40%), the Department of Health (+40%) and the Department of the Treasury (+29%).

As noted above, some agencies have attributed the increase in FOI requests to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is not the case for all agencies experiencing increases in request numbers in 2019–20. The Department of Defence said its increase in FOI requests was the result of the ADF’s involvement in the responses to the bushfire and COVID-19 emergencies; the National Disability Insurance Agency said the number of requests received has grown since the agency was established in 2013, in line with the number of participants receiving support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme; Services Australia said that during the second half of 2019–20 they experienced an increase in the number of FOI requests unrelated to COVID-19.

However, other agencies experienced significant decreases in FOI requests in 2019–20 (compared with 2018-19). For example, Comcare received 46% fewer FOI requests in 2019–20 when compared with 2018–19, which Comcare attributes to an individual who made a large number of FOI requests in 2018–19 but who pursued other avenues for obtaining access in 2019–20. Other agencies to experience decreases included the Attorney-General’s Department (-32%), the Immigration Assessment Authority (-26%), the Australian Taxation Office (-25%), the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (-20%), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (-18%) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (-17%).).

Requests for personal and ‘other’ documents

In 2019–20, 33,584 FOI requests (or 81% of all requests received) were for documents containing personal information. This is a lower proportion of personal information requests than in the previous 5 years: in 2018–19, 83% of all requests were for predominantly personal information; in 2017–18, 82% of all requests were for personal information; in 2016–17 it was 82%; in 2015–16, 87% and in 2014–15, 85%.

The decrease in the proportion of personal FOI requests may be the result of agencies increasingly making documents available to members of the public using online portals such as myGov.

In 2018–19, there were 7,749 FOI requests (or 19% of all requests) for ‘other’ (non-personal) information. This is a higher proportion than in 2018–19, when 17% of all requests were for other information. In 2017–18 the proportion was 18%, in 2016–17 it was 18%, in 2015–16 it was 13% and in 2014–15 it was 15%.

There was also considerable variance across government in the number and proportion of personal and other information FOI requests in 2019–20.

Although the Department of Home Affairs experienced a slight decrease in total FOI requests in 2019–20 (164 fewer or a 1% decrease), it received 7% fewer personal FOI requests and 111% more requests for access to other information. This increase in other (non-personal) requests occurred in the context of the Department of Home Affairs experiencing a 45% increase in these type of FOI requests in 2018–19.

While the Department of Veterans’ Affairs experienced a 17% decline in overall request numbers in 2019–20, there was a much greater decline (58%) in ‘other’ FOI requests compared with the previous year. The Australian Taxation Office, which experienced a 25% decrease in total FOI request numbers, experienced a more pronounced decline in requests for access to ‘other’ information (-43%).

Table E.2: Agencies by number of FOI requests received
Table E.2: Agencies by number of FOI requests received

Agency

2018–19

2019–20

Rank

Personal

Other

Total

% of all FOI requests

Rank

Personal

Other

Total

% of all FOI requests

Change in total

Department of Home Affairs

1

16,828

897

17,725

46

1

15,666

1,895

17,561

42

-164

Services Australia

2

5,955

255

6,210

16

2

8,570

312

8,882

21

2,672

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

3

2,801

142

2,943

8

3

2,393

60

2,453

6

-490

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

4

1,519

10

1,529

4

4

1,550

14

1,564

4

35

National Disability Insurance Agency

6

782

54

836

2

5

1,439

81

1,520

4

684

Australian Taxation Office

5

1,010

281

1,291

3

6

805

160

965

2

-326

Australian Federal Police

7

588

138

726

2

7

648

179

827

2

101

Department of Defence

10

166

275

441

1

8

287

332

619

1

178

Department of Health

11

62

372

434

1

9

71

486

557

1

123

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

9

264

245

509

1

10

232

238

470

1

-39

Immigration Assessment Authority

8

512

0

512

1

11

378

3

381

1

-131

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

19

1

169

170

1

12

8

331

339

1

169

Australian Securities and Investments Commission

14

122

174

296

1

13

73

189

262

1

-34

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

15

150

94

244

1

14

142

90

232

1

-12

Attorney-General’s Department

13

215

121

336

1

15

57

173

230

1

-106

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

0

N/A

N/A

N/A

16

6

216

222

1

N/A

Department of the Treasury*

0

3

150

153

1

17

5

192

197

1

44

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

16

90

147

237

1

18

69

126

195

1

-42

Comcare

12

181

179

360

1

19

123

71

194

1

-166

Department of Education, Skills and Employment

17

95

140

235

1

20

80

108

188

1

-47

Total top 20

0

31,457

3,968

35,425

93

0

32,602

5,256

37,858

94

2,433

Remaining agencies

0

983

2,471

3,454

9

0

982

2,493

3,475

8

21

Total

0

32,440

6,439

38,879

102

0

33,584

7,749

41,333

102

Note

Figures may not add to 100 due to rounding.

* Denotes an agency not in the top 20 agencies in 2018–19.

† Denotes an agency whose name or functions changed as a result of AAOs issued on 8 August 2019 and 5 December 2019. For example, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment combines the former Department of Agriculture with the former Department of the Environment and Energy; the Department of Education, Skills and Employment combines the former Department of Education with parts of the former Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.

‡ Shows the total for the top 20 agencies in 2018–19 (that is, includes figures for two agencies not in the top 20 agency list in 2019–20).

FOI requests finalised

Agencies and ministers commenced 2019–20 with significantly more FOI requests on hand requiring a decision than the previous financial year (42% more than at the beginning of 2018–19).

In 2019–20 we saw:

  • a large increase in the number of FOI requests withdrawn by applicants (41% more than in 2018–19, and in that year 39% more requests were withdrawn than in 2017–18)
  • an increase in FOI requests received (6% more)
  • a slight reduction in the number of requests decided (3% fewer than in 2018–19)
  • 26% more requests on hand at the end of the year (5,941) than at the beginning of the financial year (4,713).

Reasons for the higher number of requests being withdrawn during this reporting period may include:

  • increased referral to, or use of, administrative access to provide access to documents outside the FOI Act
  • documents already being available on agency disclosure logs or published on agency IPS entries or in annual reports
  • applicants accepting verbal assurances that no documents exist within the scope of their request
  • the increased use of the practical refusal provisions in s 24 of the FOI Act in 2019–20 (if an applicant does not respond to a practical refusal notice issued under s 24AB of the FOI Act they are deemed to have withdrawn their FOI request – see s 24AB(7))
  • requests sent to the wrong agency in the first instance which are then withdrawn and sent to the correct agency.3

Following the 2 AAOs issued by the Governor-General in 2019–20, the number of FOI requests transferred from one agency or minister to another in 2019–20 was 17% higher than in 2018–19, with 747 transferred in 2019–20 compared with 639 in 2018–19.

Table E.3: Overview of FOI requests received and finalised
Table E.3: Overview of FOI requests received and finalised

FOI request processing

2018–19

2019–20

% change

On hand at the beginning of the year

3,308

4,713§

42%

Received during the year

38,879

41,333

6%

Requiring decision*

42,187

46,046

9%

Withdrawn

7,087

10,000

41%

Transferred

639

747

17%

Decided

30,144

29,358

-3%

Finalised

37,870

40,105

6%

On hand at the end of the year

4,317

5,941

38%

* Total of FOI requests on hand at the beginning of this reporting period and requests received during this reporting period.

† Covers access granted in full, part or refused.

‡ The sum of requests withdrawn, transferred and decided.

§ Agencies can ask the OAIC to change the number of FOI requests on hand at the beginning of a reporting year if the number carried over from the previous year is incorrect.

The percentage of FOI requests granted in full decreased from 52% in 2018–19, to 47% in 2019–20. The percentage granted in full in 2017–18 was 50% and in 2016–17 it was 55%.

The percentage of FOI requests granted in part increased from 35% in 2018–19, to 38% in 2019–20. The number of FOI requests refused in 2019–20 (including requests refused because the documents sought do not exist or could not be found, or a practical refusal reason exists, as well as when exemptions have been applied) increased from 13% in 2018–19 to 15% in 2019–20.

As noted above, there was an increase in the number of ’other’ (non-personal) FOI requests made to Australian Government agencies in 2019–20. Requests for ‘other’ information are generally more complex than requests for access to personal information and more likely to be subject to a wider range of exemptions under the FOI Act.

Table E.4: Outcomes of FOI requests decided
Table E.4: Outcomes of FOI requests decided

Decision

Personal 2018–19

Other 2018–19

Total 2018–19

%

Personal 2019–20

Other 2019–20

Total 2019–20

%

Granted in full*

14,577

1,046

15,623

52

12,296

1,431

13,727

47

Granted in part

8,835

1,706

10,541

35

9,350

1,871

11,221

38

Refused

2,147

1,833

3,980

13

2,136

2,274

4,410

15

Total

25,559

4,585

30,144

100

23,782

5,576

29,358

100

* The release of all documents within the scope of the request, as interpreted by the agency or minister.

† A document is granted in part when a part, or parts, of a document have been redacted to remove any irrelevant, exempt or conditionally exempt matter.

Table E.5 lists the top 20 agencies by the number of FOI decisions made.

There are differences in the outcome of FOI requests between those agencies processing the largest number of requests in 2019–20 and the remaining Australian Government agencies. The refusal rate for the top 20 agencies is, on average, 13%. For the remaining Australian Government agencies, the refusal rate is much higher, 35%. However, 13 of the top 20 agencies refused access to documents at levels higher than the average across all Australian Government agencies (15%). These agencies process proportionally higher numbers of ‘other’ information FOI requests.

Correspondingly, the percentage of FOI requests granted in full is much higher for the agencies in the top 20 (49%) than it is for the remaining agencies (20%). However, the top 5 agencies in terms of FOI requests received (Table E.2: Agencies by number of FOI requests received), which account for 77% of all FOI requests received by the Australian Government, receive predominantly personal FOI requests which are more likely to be granted in full than ‘other’ FOI requests (see Table E.4: Outcomes of FOI requests decided).

Agencies processing higher proportions of FOI requests for personal information generally have higher rates of FOI requests granted in full than the Australian Government average (47% in 2019–20). For example, the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Immigration Assessment Authority.

Table E.5: Top 20 agencies by numbers of FOI requests decided in 2019–20
Table E.5: Top 20 agencies by numbers of FOI requests decided in 2019–20

Agency

Granted in full

%

Granted in part

%

Refused

%

Total

Department of Home Affairs

8,193

55

5,145

35

1,438

10

14,776

Services Australia

928

29

1,783

56

468

15

3,179

Department of Veterans' Affairs

1,977

97

43

2

24

1

2,044

National Disability Insurance Agency

538

39

764

55

80

6

1,382

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

774

67

347

30

32

3

1,153

Australian Federal Police

33

4

531

69

206

27

770

Australian Taxation Office

115

18

365

56

168

26

648

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

43

9

281

59

153

32

477

Department of Defence

86

19

226

50

141

31

453

Immigration Assessment Authority

260

84

38

12

11

4

309

Department of Health

84

33

76

30

96

37

256

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

32

14

52

23

146

63

230

Australian Securities and Investments Commission

26

14

71

37

93

49

190

Attorney-General's Department

19

10

84

44

86

46

189

Australian Postal Corporation

17

12

14

9

117

79

148

Comcare

39

27

38

26

69

47

146

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

8

6

91

67

37

27

136

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

10

7

55

41

71

52

136

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications

25

22

55

50

31

28

111

Department of the Treasury

18

16

39

36

53

48

110

Top 20

13,225

49

10,098

38

3,520

13

26,843

Remaining agencies

502

20

1,123

45

890

35

2,515

Total

13,727

47

11,221

38

4,410

15

29,358

Use of exemptions

Table E.6 shows how Australian Government agencies and ministers claimed exemptions under the FOI Act when processing FOI requests in 2019–20. More than one exemption may be applied in processing an FOI request.

Exemptions were not claimed or were not relevant in relation to 18,823 FOI requests decided in 2019–20 (64% of all FOI requests decided).6
Overall, there was very little change in the application of exemptions in 2019–20 when compared with previous years.

The personal privacy exemption (s 47F) remains the most claimed exemption. It was applied in 38% of all FOI requests in which an exemption was claimed in 2019–20, the same percentage as 2018–19. However, the use of s 47F has declined over the past 2 years. It comprised 43% of the exemptions applied in 2017–18 and 48% in 2016–17.

The next most claimed exemptions were s 47E (certain operations of agencies: 20%, down slightly from 21% in 2018–19), s 37 (documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety: 10% which was the same as 2018–19 and slightly up on 2017–18 when it was 9%), s 47C (deliberative processes: 8%, an increase over 2018–19 (7%) and 2017–18 (5%)), s 38 (documents to which secrecy provisions apply: 7%, the same as 2018–19 and 2016–17) and s 33 (documents affecting national security, defence or international relations: 4%, slightly down on 2018–19 when it was 5%).

Table E.6: Use of exemptions in FOI decisions in 2019–20
Table E.6: Use of exemptions in FOI decisions in 2019–20

FOI Act reference

Exemption

Personal

Other

Total

% of all exemptions applied

s 33

Documents affecting national security, defence or international relations

481

230

711

4

s 34

Cabinet documents

5

182

187

1

s 37

Documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety

1,447

183

1,630

10

s 38

Documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply

974

88

1,062

6

s 42

Documents subject to legal professional privilege

215

175

390

2

s 45

Documents containing material obtained in confidence

34

182

216

1

s 45A

Parliamentary Budget Office documents

0

3

3

1

s 46

Documents disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament or contempt of court

16

14

30

1

s 47

Documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information

27

170

197

1

s 47A

Electoral rolls and related documents

9

15

24

1

s 47B

Commonwealth-state relations

145

57

202

1

s 47C

Deliberative processes

846

513

1,359

8

s 47D

Financial or property interests of the Commonwealth

114

25

139

1

s 47E

Certain operations of agencies

2,589

751

3,340

20

s 47F

Personal privacy

5,256

937

6,193

38

s 47G

Business

207

391

598

4

s 47H

Research

6

4

10

1

s 47J

The economy

0

6

6

1

Note

Figures may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Use of practical refusal

Section 24AB of the FOI Act sets out that a ‘request consultation process’ must be undertaken if a ‘practical refusal reason’ exists (s 24AA). A practical refusal reason exists if the work involved in processing the FOI request would substantially and unreasonably divert the agency’s resources from its other operations, or if the FOI request does not adequately identify the documents sought.

The request consultation process involves the agency sending a written notice to the FOI applicant advising them that the agency intends to refuse the request and providing details of how the FOI applicant can consult the agency. The FOI Act imposes an obligation on the agency to take reasonable steps to help the FOI applicant revise their request so that the practical refusal reason no longer exists.

Table E.7 provides information about how Australian Government agencies and ministers engaged in request consultation processes under s 24AB of the FOI Act in 2019–20 and the outcome of those processes.

Agencies sent 71% more notices of an intention to refuse an FOI request for a practical refusal reason in 2019–20 than in 2018–19, when 2,225 notices were sent. The reason for this increase was a substantial increase in the number of practical refusal notices issued by the Department of Home Affairs (which issued 792 notices in 2018–19 and 2,713 in 2019–20). The Department of Home Affairs issued practical refusal notices for 15% of all the FOI requests it received during 2019–20 (the Department of Home Affairs received 17,561 FOI requests).

In 2019–20, 88% of the FOI requests subject to a notice of intention to refuse a request were subsequently refused or withdrawn. The proportion was 77% in 2018–19, 84% in 2017–18 (noting 2017–18 was an atypical year in which one agency refused a large number of related requests for a practical refusal reason) and 66% in 2016–17. This increase in subsequent refusals or withdrawals is the result of the Department of Home Affairs issuing a large number of notices and subsequently processing very few requests (discussed further below).

Table E.7: Use of practical refusal in 2019–20
Table E.7: Use of practical refusal in 2019–20

Practical refusal processing step

Personal

Other

Total

%*

Notified in writing of intention to refuse request

3,002

801

3,803

0

Request was subsequently refused or withdrawn

2,840

522

3,362

88

Request was subsequently processed

162

279

441

12

* Percentage of the total number of notices advising of an intention to refuse a request for a practical refusal reason.

Lower proportions of FOI requests subsequently refused or withdrawn after a practical refusal notice is issued, suggests agencies have been better at assisting applicants revise the scope of their requests so they can be processed. Therefore, given that 2017–18 was an atypical year, there was a significant deterioration in the effectiveness of agency consultations under s 24AB of the FOI Act in 2019–20 when compared with previous years.

The Department of Home Affairs, which issued 71% of all notices of an intention to refuse a request for a practical refusal reason in 2019–20 (2,713), subsequently processed only 6 FOI requests after issuing a notice of intention to refuse a request for a practical refusal reason (1%). For all other agencies, this percentage was 40%. The low rate of FOI requests subsequently processed by the Department of Home Affairs indicates that its consultation with applicants has not been successful in removing the practical refusal reason. This low rate of FOI requests being processed after the issuing of a consultation notice is particularly notable because the Department of Home Affairs issued notices predominantly in relation to requests for access to personal information (98%). For all other Australian Government agencies, notices of intention to refuse for a practical refusal reason were issued predominantly in relation to ‘other’ (non-personal) FOI requests (68%).

Time taken to respond to FOI requests

Agencies and ministers have 30 days within which to make a decision under the FOI Act. The FOI Act allows for the timeframe to be extended in certain circumstances.4

If a decision is not made in response to an FOI request within the statutory timeframe (including any extension period) then s 15AC of the FOI Act provides that a decision refusing access is deemed to have been made. Nonetheless, agencies have an obligation to continue to process a request that has been deemed to be refused.

In 2019–20, 79% of all FOI requests determined were processed within the applicable statutory time period: 80% of all personal information requests and 73% of all non-personal requests.

This represents a decrease in the timeliness of decision-making from 2018–19, when 83% of all FOI requests were decided within time and 2017–18, when 85% were decided within time.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the ability of some Australian Government agencies to respond to FOI requests within the statutory timeframes in the FOI Act. In some agencies, FOI staff were redeployed to work in frontline customer service roles while the internal redeployment of other staff to meet service delivery needs made it difficult to obtain documents to satisfy FOI requests and to engage with decision makers, many of whom assumed additional responsibilities as part of their agency’s response to the pandemic. Interagency consultation also presented challenges, particularly with agencies heavily involved in delivering Australia’s response to the pandemic. For agencies with staff working remotely, some aspects of FOI processing was more difficult, for example, manipulating large files and using redaction software can be slower on domestic internet servers and in some cases the necessary IT infrastructure was not in place to allow staff to work from home, resulting in delays that affected productivity. Posting and receiving hard copy documents, particularly for staff living in locations subject to movement restrictions, was difficult. For some agencies, the impact of COVID-19 was more significant because they were in the early stages of integrating functions following machinery of government changes that came into effect on 1 February 2020.

Some agencies decided fewer than 50% of FOI requests within the statutory timeframes in 2019–20. These agencies include the Minister for the Environment, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the Australian Sports Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, the Prime Minister and the Norfolk Island Regional Council.

Because of the large number of FOI requests the Department of Home Affairs receives, it is worth noting that the its compliance with statutory timeframes was 66% in 2019–20, which is below the Australian Government average of 79%. This represents a decline in timeliness compared with 2018–19 (when it was 74%) and 2017–18 (75%). The Department of Home Affairs decided 69% of personal FOI requests within the statutory timeframes in 2019–20 but decided only 37% of ‘other’ (non-personal) requests within time.

There was a significant increase in the number of FOI requests decided more than 90 days over the applicable statutory time period when compared with previous years. While 10% of all requests decided in 2019–20 were decided more than 90 days after the expiry of the statutory processing period, it was 2% in 2018–19 and 7% in 2017–18.

A number of agencies that process large numbers of FOI requests (more than 50) decided them all within the statutory time period in 2019–20. These agencies include the Department of Health (256 requests decided in 2019–20), IP Australia (109), the former Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business (104), the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (101), the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (82), the Department of Social Services (63) and the Department of Finance (59).

Table E.8: Response times greater than 90 days after the expiry of the applicable statutory period in 2019–20
Table E.8: Response times greater than 90 days after the expiry of the applicable statutory period in 2019–20

Agency

Total requests decided

Requests decided more than 90 days after statutory period

% FOI requests received by agency or minister

Australian Fisheries Management Authority

2

1

50

Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations

67

29

43

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies

3

1

33

Treasurer

3

1

33

Department of Home Affairs

14,776

2,827

19

Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority

21

4

19

Clean Energy Regulator

17

3

18

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

52

9

17

Veterans’ Review Board

6

1

17

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

1,153

2

1

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

2,044

3

1

Australian Electoral Commission

24

1

4

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

136

4

3

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

80

2

2

Australian Federal Police

770

17

2

Australian Maritime Safety Authority

48

1

2

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

67

1

1

Australia Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

477

3

1

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

230

1

1

Australian Taxation Office

648

4

1

Services Australia

3,179

3

1

National Disability Insurance Agency

1,382

1

1

Applications for amendment of personal records

Section 48 of the FOI Act confers a right on a person to apply to an agency or to a minister to amend a document to which lawful access has been granted, when the document contains personal information about the applicant:

  • that is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading and
  • that has been used, is being used, or is available for use by the agency or minister for an administrative purpose.

In 2019–20, 7 agencies received 717 amendment applications (no applications were received by ministers). This is a 7% increase in applications from 2018–19, when 673 applications were received. However, in 2018–19 there was a 32% increase in applications compared with the previous year (510 amendment applications were made in 2017–18).

The increase in amendment applications is largely due to an increase in applications received by the Department of Home Affairs (6% more in 2019–20 than in 2018–19). Increases in amendment applications were also experienced by the Department of Defence (an 87% increase, from 15 to 28 applications) and Services Australia (a 71% increase, from 17 to 29 applications).

Table E.9 compares the decision-making for amendment applications with 2018–19. In 2019–20, a decision was made to amend or annotate a person’s personal record in 88% of all decided applications, an increase in the proportion of decisions made to amend or annotate in 2018–19, when 76% of all applications were granted. Because the Department of Home Affairs accounted for 91% of all amendment applications received, overall trends in amendment decision-making were largely determined by decisions made by that Department.

Table E.9 Decisions on amendment applications

Table E.9: Decisions on amendment applications

Decision

2018–19

% of total

2019–20

% of total

% change*

Applications granted: amend record

407

63

515

78

27

Applications granted: annotate record

80

13

68

10

-15

Applications granted: amend and annotate record

0

0

0

0

0

Applications refused

155

24

79

12

-31

Total decided

642

100

662

100

* Percentage increase or decrease over 2018–19.

Time taken to respond to amendment applications

An agency is required to notify an applicant of a decision on their application to amend personal records as soon as practicable, but in any case, not later than 30 days after the day the request is received, or a longer period as extended under the FOI Act.

In 2019–20, 90% of all amendment applications were decided within the applicable statutory time frame, the same as in 2018–19.

Internal review of amendment decisions

In 2019–20, 7 applications for internal review of amendment decisions were made: 4 applications were made to the Department of Home Affairs; 2 to the former Department of Employment, of FOI requests, except requests for personal Skills, Small and Family Business; and one to information, and sets out the process by the Department of Defence. Six internal review which charges are assessed, notified and decisions were made during the reporting year; adjusted. 5 decisions granted the requested amendment or annotation and one decision was made refusing the requested alteration.

Charges

Section 29 of the FOI Act provides that an agency or minister may impose charges in respect of FOI requests, except requests for personal information, and sets out the process by which charges are assessed, notified and adjusted.

Table E.10 shows the amounts collected by the 20 agencies that collected the most in charges under the FOI Act in 2019–20. These top 20 agencies are responsible for 90% of all charges collected by Australian Government agencies and ministers under the FOI Act.

In 2019–20, agencies notified a total of $267,069 in charges with respect to 716 FOI requests, but collected only $88,090 (33% of the total notified). This difference is due to agencies exercising their discretion under s 29 of the FOI Act not to impose the whole charge, or applicants withdrawing their FOI request and not paying the notified charge.

Agencies notified and collected less in charges in 2019–20 than in 2018–19. As noted above, in 2019–20, agencies notified a total of $267,069 in charges, 25% less than in 2018–19, when $357,039 was notified. In 2019–20, $88,090 was collected, a 28% decrease compared to 2018–19 when $122,774 was collected. Total charges notified and total charges collected have declined year-on-year since 2013–14, when $734,762 was notified and $239,628 was collected.

Table E.10: Top 20 agencies by charges collected in 2019–20

Table E.10: Top 20 agencies by charges collected in 2019–20

Agency

Requests received

Requests where charges notified

Total charges notified

Total charges collected

Department of Health

557

149

40,696

19,075

Civil Aviation Safety Authority

145

40

13,333

8,929

Department of Education, Skills and Employment

188

55

15,379

6,990

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

128

2

12,211

5,064

Department of Defence

619

19

19,895

4,741

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

62

28

11,172

4,431

Australian Maritime Safety Authority

65

7

5,772

4,168

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

222

32

5,836

3,738

Department of Agriculture

78

27

3,663

3,452

Bureau of Meteorology

22

8

4,637

3,156

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

42

3

3,182

2,820

National Health and Medical Research Council

20

8

5,378

2,605

National Indigenous Australians Agency

56

6

4,809

2,406

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

7

7

10,050

2,207

Services Australia

8,882

66

10,008

1,782

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

339

21

5,566

974

Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

138

24

6,921

798

Airservices Australia

32

15

9,099

796

Comcare

194

2

1,207

747

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

20

2

1,679

686

Top 20

11,816

521

190,493

79,565

Remaining agencies

29,517

195

76,576

8,525

Total

41,333

716

267,069

88,090

Disclosure logs

All Australian Government agencies and ministers subject to the FOI Act are required to maintain an FOI disclosure log on a website. The disclosure log lists information that has been released to FOI applicants, subject to some exceptions (such as personal or business information). Information about agency and ministerial compliance with disclosure log requirements has been collected since 2012–13.

Australian Government agencies reported 1,949 new entries on disclosure logs during 2019–20 including documents available for download directly from the agency or minister’s website in relation to 1,468 requests, documents available from another website in relation to 56 requests, and 425 entries in which the documents are available by another means (usually upon request).

The total number of new entries published on disclosure logs in 2019–20 was 62% higher than 2018–19, when 1,200 new entries were added.

There has been an increase in the proportion of new documents which members of the public can access directly from agency websites (in 2019–20 it was 75% compared to 59% in 2018–19).

As explained in our FOI Guidelines, publication of documents directly through the disclosure log, rather than providing a description of the documents and how they can be obtained on request from the agency or minister, is consistent with the FOI Act object of facilitating public access to government information.5

In 2019–20, agencies and ministers reported a total of 40,776 unique visits to disclosure logs and 165,169 page views, which represents an 81% decrease in unique visits since 2018–19 and a 23% decrease in total page views reported in 2018–19. It is not clear whether this decrease is the result of reduced reporting (the online form completed by agencies defaults to a response that website statistics are not collected, however this has been a feature of the reporting form for a number of years), or whether there was a was a decrease in both unique visitors and page views.

Review of FOI decisions

Under the FOI Act, an applicant who is dissatisfied with the decision of an agency or minister on their initial FOI request has a number of avenues of review. The applicant can seek internal review with the agency or minister or external merits review by the Information Commissioner (IC review). Information Commissioner decisions under s 55K are reviewable by the AAT. AAT decisions may be appealed on a question of law to the Federal Court. In addition, an applicant can complain at any time to the Information Commissioner about an agency’s actions under the FOI Act.

Third parties who have been consulted in the FOI process also have review rights if an agency or minister decides to release documents contrary to their submissions. Consultation requirements apply for state governments (s 26A), commercial organisations (s 27), and private individuals (s 27A).

Internal review

Although there is no statutory obligation to do so, the Information Commissioner recommends and encourages FOI applicants to apply for an internal review before applying for an IC review.

In 2019–20, 942 applications were made for an internal review of FOI decisions, 5% more than in 2018–19 (when 893 internal review applications were made). This increase is noteworthy in the context of fewer FOI requests being decided in 2019–20. In 2019–20, 3% of all FOI requests determined led to applications for internal review, the same as in 2018–19. This indicates that applicants were more likely than in previous years to seek internal review with the agency, rather than proceeding directly to external review by the Information Commissioner.

Of the 942 applications for an internal review, 572 (61%) were for review of decisions made in response to requests for personal information and 370 (39%) were for review of decisions on other (non-personal) information requests. On the basis that 81% of all FOI decisions determined in 2019–20 were made with respect to requests for access to personal information, this indicates that FOI applicants seeking access to personal information are less likely to seek internal review than those seeking to access other (non-personal) information.

Agencies finalised 890 decisions on internal review in 2019–20. This was 7% more than in 2018–19 (829). Of these, 442 (49%) affirmed the original decision, 138 (15%) set aside the original decision and granted access in full, 235 (26%) granted access in part, 13 (1%) granted access in another form, 14 (2%) resulted in lesser access and applicants withdrew 43 applications (5%) without concession by the agency. Agencies reduced the charges levied as a result of internal review in 4 cases (1%).

As noted above, there were 7 applications for internal review of decisions made with respect to amendment applications, 1 fewer than in 2018–19. Agencies made 6 internal review decisions on amendment applications compared to 10 in 2018–19. In 1 review, the original decision was affirmed and in the remaining 5, the original decision was set aside and the requested alteration or annotation was made. In 2018–19, 8 of original decisions were affirmed and 2 were set aside.

IC review applications

Table E.11 provides a breakdown by agency and minister of the IC review applications received in 2019–20, where the agency or minister was the subject of more than one IC review. In total, there were 1,066 applications for IC review (up 15% from 928 in 2018–19).

In general, the agencies that receive the most FOI requests also have the most IC review applications. In 2019–20, of the agencies experiencing the most IC reviews, 13 also appear in the list of top 20 agencies in terms of the number of FOI requests received.

However, some agencies that do not receive large numbers of FOI requests are the subject of a comparatively large number of IC review applications given their FOI caseload. In 2019–20, the agencies with a large number of IC reviews lodged, expressed as a proportion of the total number of FOI requests received, include the Prime Minister (22%), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (17%), Comcare (15%), the National Indigenous Australians Agency (14%) and the Australian National University (10%).

Table E.11 Information Commissioner review — top 20 by review applications received
Table E.11: Information Commissioner review — top 20 by review applications received

Agency/minister

FOI requests received

Access refusal decisions

Access grant decisions

Total IC reviews

% of FOI requests

Department of Home Affairs

17,561

283

0

283

2

Services Australia

8,882

153

0

153

2

Australian Federal Police

827

58

0

58

7

Department of Defence

619

40

1

41

7

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

195

33

0

33

17

Comcare

194

29

0

29

15

National Disability Insurance Agency

1,520

27

0

27

2

Australian Taxation Office

965

26

0

26

3

Prime Minister of Australia

101

22

0

22

22

Department of Health

557

21

0

21

4

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

339

21

0

21

6

Attorney-General's Department

230

21

0

21

9

Australian Securities and Investments Commission

262

15

1

16

6

Department of the Environment and Energy*

N/A

11

4

15

N/A

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment†

222

8

2

10

5

Commonwealth Ombudsman

120

9

0

9

8

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development

160

9

0

9

6

Department of Industry, Transport, Cities and Regional Development

128

9

0

9

7

National Indigenous Australians Agency

56

8

0

8

14

Department of Social Services

138

8

0

8

6

Civil Aviation Safety Authority

145

5

3

8

6

Australian National University

79

8

0

8

10

Subtotal

33,300

824

11

835

3

Remaining agencies/ministers

8,033

217

14

231

3

Total

41,333

1,041

25

1,066

3

* New department, commenced operations 1 February 2020.

There was a 26% increase in the number of IC reviews finalised by the OAIC in 2019–20 (829), compared with 2018–19 (when 659 were finalised).

In 2019–20, 777 IC reviews were finalised without a formal decision being made under s 55K of the FOI Act (94% of all IC reviews finalised during this reporting period). This is a higher percentage than in 2018–19 (91%) and 2017–18 (80%).

In 2019–20, 82 IC reviews were declined under s 54W(a) (lacking in substance, failure to cooperate, or lost contact) compared to 39 in 2018–19. There were 83 IC reviews declined under s 54W(b) (refer to AAT) compared with 31 in 2018–19. The total number of IC review applications declined under s 54W6 of the FOI Act increased as a percentage of the total IC reviews finalised in 2019–20. In 2019–20, 255 IC reviews were declined under s 54W (31%). This is a higher percentage than in both 2018–19 (30%) and 2017–18 (27%).

Of the 829 IC review applications finalised, 11% were declined under s 54W(a)(i) (frivolous, vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance, or not made in good faith), 9% were declined under s 54W(a)(ii) (failure to cooperate), 1% under s 54W(a)(iii) (lost contact) and 10% under s 54W(b) (allow to go direct to the AAT).

In 2019–20, the Information Commissioner made 50 decisions under s 55K of the FOI Act. Of the 50 decisions, 24 affirmed the decision under review (48%), 19 set aside the reviewable decision (38%) and 7 decisions were varied (14%). Of the 24 decisions that affirmed the decision under review, 19 (79%) decisions were made with respect to access refusal decisions and 5 (21%) were made in relation to access grants. Each of the 19 decisions that set aside the reviewable decision, and the 7 decisions that varied the reviewable decision were access refusals. In 2018–19, the Information Commissioner affirmed 32% of decisions, set aside 62% and varied 7%.

Of the 24 decisions affirmed by the Information Commissioner, 8 decisions (33%) had been revised by the agency or minister under s 55G of the FOI Act during the IC review, giving greater access to the documents sought. Of the 19 decisions set aside by the Information Commissioner, 9 decisions (47%) had been revised by the agency or minister under s 55G of the FOI Act during the IC review, giving greater access to the documents sought.

The percentage of applications received by the OAIC which were out of jurisdiction or invalid increased from 16% in 2018–19, to 19% in 2019–20.

Table E.12: Information Commissioner review outcomes
Table E.12: Information Commissioner review outcomes

Information Commissioner decisions

2018–19

% of 2018–19 total

2019–20

% of 2019–20 total

Section 54N — out of jurisdiction or invalid

103

16

161

19

Section 54R — withdrawn

199

30

180

22

Section 54R — withdrawn/conciliated

76

13

154

19

Section 54W(a)(i) — frivolous, vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance, or not in good faith

126

19

90

11

Section 54W(a)(ii) — failure to cooperate

34

5

76

9

Section 54W(a)(iii) — lost contact

5

1

6

1

Section 54W(b) — refer AAT

31

5

83

10

Section 54W(c) — failure to comply

0

0

0

0

Section 55F — set aside by agreement

13

2

12

1

Section 55F — varied by agreement

12

2

17

2

Section 55F — affirmed by agreement

0

0

0

0

Section 55G — substituted

0

0

0

0

Section 55K — affirmed by IC

19

3

24

3

Section 55K — set aside by IC

37

6

19

2

Section 55K — varied by IC

4

1

7

1

Total

659

103

829

100

Note

Figures may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal review

An application can be made to the AAT for review of the following FOI decisions:

  • a decision of the Information Commissioner under s 55K
  • an IC reviewable decision (that is, an original decision or an internal review decision), but only if the Information Commissioner decides, under s 54W(b), that the interests of the administration of the FOI Act make it desirable that the IC reviewable decision be considered by the AAT directly.

In 2019–20, 52 applications for review of FOI decisions were made to the AAT. This is a 148% increase from 2018–19, when 21 applications were made to the AAT.

Table E.13 provides a breakdown, by agency, of applications to the AAT in relation to FOI decisions in 2019–20. This data has been provided by the AAT.

Table E.13: AAT review by agency (respondent)
Table E.13: AAT review by agency (respondent)

Respondent

Applications

National Disability Insurance Agency

7

Department of Defence

4

Australian Securities & Investments Commission

3

Department of Home Affairs

3

Attorney-General's Department

2

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

2

Australian Federal Police

2

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

2

Department of Industry, Science Energy and Resources

2

Department of Veterans' Affairs

2

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

2

Services Australia

2

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner

1

Attorney-General

1

Australian Financial Security Authority

1

Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority

1

Australian Taxation Office

1

Department of Finance

1

High Court of Australia

1

Indigenous Business Australia

1

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction

1

Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

1

Professional Services Review

1

Sport Integrity Australia

1

Other (appeals by agencies against IC review decisions)

7

Total

52

In 2019–20, 2 agencies sought review in the AAT of decisions made by the Information Commissioner under s 55K of the FOI Act – Services Australia (6 applications) and the Department of Defence (1 application).

Fifty-seven applications remain outstanding with the AAT at the end of 2019–20. This is a 171% increase on the number of applications outstanding at the end of 2018–19 (21).

Table E.14 shows the outcome of the 30 FOI reviews finalised by the AAT in 2019–20. The AAT provided this data.

Table E.14: Outcomes of FOI reviews finalised by the AAT
Table E.14: Outcomes of FOI reviews finalised by the AAT

AAT outcomes

Number in 2018–19

% of total 2018–19

Number in 2019–20

% of total 2019–20

Affirmed by consent

1

5

0

0

Varied/set aside/remitted by consent

4

20

2

7

Dismissed by consent

0

0

0

0

Withdrawn by applicant

4

20

4

13

Decision affirmed

6

30

9

30

Decision varied/set aside

1

5

3

10

Dismissed by AAT — frivolous or vexatious/fail to comply with direction

0

0

2

7

Dismissed — no application fee paid

1

5

0

0

Dismissed — non-reviewable decision

3

15

10

33

Total

20

100

30

100

Of the 30 FOI reviews finalised by the AAT, 12 (40%) resulted in published decisions in 2019–20.

The AAT affirmed the agency’s decision in 9 (30%) of the 30 AAT reviews finalised; the same percentage as in 2018–19.

Of the 30 FOI reviews finalised in 2019–20, 3 involved applications made by Australian Government agencies following decisions made by the Information Commissioner under s 55K of the FOI Act. Of these 3 reviews, 2 applications were varied or set aside (by decision), and 1 was varied or set aside by consent.

Federal Court

No judicial decisions relating to FOI matters were made during 2019–20.

Impact of FOI on agency resources

To assess the impact on agency resources of their compliance with the FOI Act, agencies are asked to estimate the hours staff spent on FOI matters and the non-labour costs directly attributable to FOI, such as legal and specific FOI training costs. Agencies submit these estimates annually. Agency estimates may also include FOI processing work undertaken on behalf of a minister’s office.

Agencies are also asked to report their costs of compliance with the IPS. To facilitate comparison with information in previous annual reports, IPS costs are not included in this analysis of the cost of agency compliance with the FOI Act, but are discussed separately below.

The total reported cost attributable to processing FOI requests in 2019–20 was $63.9 million, a 7% increase over the previous financial year’s total of $59.9 million.

The reason for the increase in the overall cost of FOI activity is a 6% increase in the total staff hours devoted to FOI in 2019–20 (when compared with 2018–19). The total number of staff hours spent in FOI activity in 2018–19 was 840,803 but that rose to 893,564 in 2019–20. As a result, the average cost of each FOI request determined during this reporting period rose to $2,176 (from $1,985 in 2018–19).

Table E.15 sets out the average cost per FOI request determined (granted in full, in part or refused) compared to the last 3 financial years. The average cost per request determined in 2019–20 was $2,177 (up 10% from 2018–19).

Table E.15: Average cost per request determined

Table E.15: Average cost per request determined

Year

Requests determined

Total cost ($)

Average cost per request determined ($)

2019–20

29,358

63,906,111

2,177

2018–19

30,144

59,844,953

1,985

2017–18

31,674

52,186,179

1,648

2016–17

34,029

44,787,154

1,316

Staff costs (FOI)

All agencies are asked to supply information about staff resources allocated to FOI.

Table E.16: Total FOI staffing across all Australian Government agencies
Table E.16: Total FOI staffing across all Australian Government agencies

Staffing

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

% change

Total staff hours

744,350

840,803

893,564

6

Total staff years

372.2

420.4

446.8

6

Agencies provide estimates of the number of staff hours spent on FOI to enable calculation of salary costs (and 60% related costs) directly attributable to FOI request processing.  

A summary of staff costs is provided in Table E.17, based on information provided by agencies and ministers and is calculated using the following median base annual salaries from Australian Public Service Commission public information:7

  • FOI contact officer (officers whose duties included FOI work) $78,8738
  • other officers involved in processing requests:
    • Senior Executive Service (SES) officers (or equivalent) $202,9109
    • APS Level 6 and Executive Levels (EL) 1–2 $115,00510
    • Australian Public Service (APS) Levels 1–5 $64,79911
  • Minister’s office:
    • Minister and advisers $142,55612
    • Minister’s support staff $64,79913
Table E.17: Estimated staff costs of FOI compared to last year

Type of staff

Staff years 2018–19

Total staff costs 2018–19

Staff years 2019–20

Total staff costs 2019–20

Total staff costs (% change)

FOI contact officers

311.7

38,946,729

326.5

41,202,750

6

SES

13.8

4,324,454

16.5

5,353,577

24

APS Level 6 and EL 1–2

50.3

9,166,395

53.2

9,780,761

7

APS Levels 1–5

43.1

4,406,957

47.5

4,923,532

12

Minister and advisers

0.9

211,357

1.1

256,145

21

Minister’s support staff

0.6

64,207

2.0

210,519

228

Total

420.4

57,120,102

446.8

61,727,284

8

Total estimated staff costs in 2019–20, were $61.73 million, 8% more than in 2018–19. In 2018–19, total estimated staff costs rose by 15% over the previous financial year.​

Non-labour costs

Non-labour costs directly attributable to FOI are summarised in Table E.18, including the percentage change from the previous year. The total non-labour costs in 2019–20 were $2.2 million, a 20% decrease compared with the previous financial year ($2.7 million).

The most significant decrease in non-labour costs in 2019–20 was in relation to training costs, which decreased by 56%. Training costs reflect training provided to new FOI staff, as well as ongoing training for existing staff. This decrease may be the result of the substantial increase in training costs in 2018–19 compared with the previous year (19% higher in 2018–19 than in 2017–18) which may mean that many staff undertook training during the last financial year. The ability of agencies to delivery FOI training may also have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed staff priorities and limited training opportunities.

There was also a large decrease in non-labour costs in 2019–20 in relation to general legal advice costs, which were 53% lower than in 2019–20.

As can be seen from Table E.18, there was also a small (5%) decrease in general administrative costs (this includes printing and postage). This may reflect a general decline in the number of people requiring documents to be printed and sent to them, increased efficiencies in the use of digital technology, and the greater use of digital communication due to movement restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest increase in non-labour costs in 2019–20, was in relation to litigation costs (120% higher than in 2018–19). The higher litigation costs are primarily the result of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ($178,289 up from $38,736 in 2018–19) and Services Australia (which reported no litigation expenses in 2018–19 and $151,272 in 2019–20). Neither agency provided an explanation in their annual return as to how these costs were incurred or why these costs were higher than in 2018–19. However, it is apparent from the data provided by the AAT that Services Australia was a party to 8 new appeals relating to FOI decisions in 2019–20; 2 as the respondent and 6 as the applicant.

Table E.18: Identified non-labour costs of FOI

Table E.18: Identified non-labour costs of FOI

Costs

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

% change

General legal advice costs

1,234,631

1,517,125

719,718

-53

Litigation costs

426,145

414,635

911,551

120

Sub-total (legal costs)

1,660,776

1,931,760

1,631,269

-16

General administrative costs

274,532

144,140

136,634

-5

Training

323,958

385,745

168,339

-56

Other

299,029

263,206

242,585

-8

Total

2,558,295

2,724,851

2,178,827

-20

Average cost per FOI request

The overall average number of staff days to process an FOI request in 2019–20 was 2.9 days, the same as 2018–19. As in previous years, the average staff days per FOI request differed significantly across agencies, from 0.1 days (Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General) to 41 days (Australian Transport Safety Bureau).

The average cost per request received also differed significantly across agencies from $21 to $28,721. The overall average cost per request received was $1,546, an increase of less than 1% on the previous year’s average of $1,539.

Table E.19: Agencies with average cost per FOI request greater than $10,000
Table E.19: Agencies with average cost per FOI request greater than $10,000

Agency

Requests received

Average cost per request ($)

Professional Services Review

3

28,721

Australian National Maritime Museum

1

25,757

Australian Transport Safety Bureau

9

21,705

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

128

20,347

Australian Building and Construction Commission

1

17,407

Murray-Darling Basin Authority

3

13,829

Indigenous Business Australia

5

12,860

Cancer Australia

6

11,543

Director of National Parks

5

11,358

Fair Work Ombudsman

57

11,472

Department of Defence

619

11,287

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology

2

11,041

National Competition Council

2

10,047

As a general rule, the agencies with the highest average cost per request are small agencies which do not receive many FOI requests. As a result, they do not have the opportunity to develop the processing efficiencies of agencies with higher volumes of FOI requests.

However, the Department of Defence, which received 619 FOI requests, and the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, which received 128 FOI requests both have a high average cost per request. These costs are attributable in part to the high average staff days per request (28.4 days for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and 17.8 days for the Department of Defence).

Impact of the IPS on agency resources

Agencies are required to provide information about the costs of meeting their obligations under the IPS.

The total reported cost attributable to compliance with the IPS in 2019–20 was $1,242,976, nearly 1% less than in 2018–19 ($1,254,293).

Staff costs (IPS)

Table E.20 shows the total reported IPS staffing across Australian Government agencies compared to last year.

Table E.20: Total IPS staffing
Table E.20: Total IPS staffing

Staffing

2018–19

2019–20

% change

Staff numbers: 75–100% time on IPS matters

31

8

-74

Staff numbers: less than 75% time on IPS matters

323

295

-9

Total staff hours

19,225

19,084

-1

Total staff years

9.6

9.5

-1

Table E.21: Estimated staff costs in relation to the IPS in 2019–20
Table E.21: Estimated staff costs in relation to the IPS in 2019–20

Type of staff*

Staff years

Salary costs

Related costs (60%)

Total staff costs

IPS contact officers

8.8

442,547

663,820

1,106,367

SES

0.1

7,597

11,395

18,992

APS Level 6 and EL 1–2

0.5

38,163

57,245

95,408

APS Levels 1–5

0.2

8,211

12,317

20,528

Total

9.6

496,518

744,778

1,241,296

* IPS contact officers are officers whose usual duties include IPS work. The other rows cover other officers involved in IPS work.

Non-labour IPS costs

Reported IPS non-labour costs for all agencies totalled $1,680 in 2019–20, a 68% decrease when compared with 2018–19. Agencies reported $1,180 on general administrative costs and one agency reported spending $500 on general legal advice associated with its IPS.

Only 5 agencies (of the more than 250 agencies subject to the requirement to maintain an IPS entry) reported any expenditure on IPS during 2019–20. No agencies reported expenditure on IPS litigation, IPS training or ‘other’ IPS expenses.

Footnotes

  1. Australian Government ministers and agencies, and Norfolk Island authorities, are required by s 93 of the FOI Act and reg 8 of the Freedom of Information (Prescribed Authorities, Principal Offices and Annual Report) Regulations 2017 to submit statistical returns to the OAIC every quarter and provide a separate annual report on FOI and IPS costs.
  2. ​The data reported in this appendix has been rounded to whole numbers. In some cases this means that figures may not add to 100.
  3. Although an agency or minister can transfer a wrongly directed FOI request under s 16(1) of the FOI Act, this can only be done with the agreement of the receiving agency. If the applicant makes the request directly to the agency, it must be processed.
  4. An agency may extend the period of time to make a decision by agreement with the applicant (s 15AA), or to undertake consultation with a third party (ss 15(6)–(8)). An agency can also apply to the Information Commissioner for more time to process a request when the request is complex or voluminous (s 15AB), or when access has been deemed to have been refused (ss 15AC and 51DA) or deemed to have been affirmed on internal review (s 54D). These extension provisions acknowledge there are circumstances when it is appropriate for an agency to take more than 30 days to process a request. When an agency has obtained an extension of time to deal with an FOI request and finalises the request within the extended time, the request is recorded as having been determined within the statutory time period.
  5. FOI Guidelines [14.32].
  6. Section 54W of the FOI Act contains a number of grounds under which the Information Commissioner may decide not to undertake an IC review or not to continue to undertake an IC review.
  7. Because salary levels differ between agencies, median salary levels have been used. These will be published by the Australian Public Service Commission in its APS Remuneration Report 2019. These median levels are as at 31 December 2019.
  8. APS Level 5 base salary median.
  9. SES Band 1 base salary median.
  10. Executive Level 1 base salary median.
  11. APS Level 3 base salary median.
  12. Executive Level 2 base salary median.
  13. APS Level 3 base salary median.