Freedom of Information
What is Freedom of Information?
Freedom of information (FOI) gives you the right to apply for access to NT government information. It is about enhancing government accountability and participation in our democratic system of government.
What information can I apply for?
Government information means records required to be kept by NT public sector organisations as evidence of their activities. It includes computer records, audiotapes, videotapes and CDs.
It includes personal information about people and information about businesses.
It is limited to records held by the organisation. It does not cover knowledge or views held by staff unless they have been recorded. It does not cover documents that once existed but have been destroyed.
How do I apply?
You apply in writing to the government organisation that you believe holds the information. So, for example, you would apply to the Department of Health and Community Services for information it holds, or the Northern Territory Police for information it holds. You can read more on the FOI - Making an access application page and the FOI - What will the organisation do? page.
Will I get access to everything?
You have a right to get access to any government information unless there is a good reason for refusing access.
In some cases, access to part or all of the information a person applies for is refused. This will happen when the organisation decides that disclosure of particular information would be contrary to the public interest. The Act sets out a series of exemptions that say when disclosure is or may be contrary to the public interest.
The exemptions relate to things like:
- unreasonable interference with privacy
- exposing a business unreasonably to disadvantage
- prejudicing the maintenance of law and order
- breaching confidentiality
- Cabinet and Executive Council information.
What does it cost?
If your application is for your personal information only there is no application fee. But you may have to pay for the cost of providing access, eg. 20c per page for A4 copies of documents you want.
If your application is not limited to your personal information, you will have to pay a $30 application fee, and costs of processing the part of your application that is not for your personal information. These will include costs of searching for the information, consultation, and decision-making.
Fees may be waived or reduced in some cases.
For more information about fees, estimates and waiver you can read the FOI - What does it cost? page.
How can I help?
There are a number of ways that you can help reduce the amount of work that needs to be done to respond to an access application. These will make it more likely that-
- your application is responded to faster;
- the time taken to respond to your application is minimised;
- fees are only charged for information that you really want;
- less public resources are used to respond to your application.
To help with the process, you can-
- make initial inquiries to establish which organisation is likely to hold the information you are looking for, and the types of information held. For example, you can contact the relevant organisation or look for information on the organisation's website.
- be as specific as you can about the information you are looking for. A broad request for "everything you have about me" gives the organisation very little help in deciding how to search for the information you want.
- give as many details as you can to help identify information. For example, you may be able to say when an incident took place, where it took place, who was involved, or what was the outcome. You may already know about some documents that exist. All of this information will help with the search for the information you want.
Is FOI the best way to go?
FOI is just one way of accessing government information. NT government organisations already publish a lot of information about what they do. There are also other administrative and legal ways of getting access to information. Some of these alternatives are discussed on the Alternatives to FOI page.
Before you make an FOI application, you might want to research the type of information the organisation holds or contact the organisation that you think holds information to see what they have available and discuss any options for access.
Are there any other limits on access?
You can apply to access your own personal information whenever it was created. You can only apply to access other government information if it was created or received by an organisation after 1 July 1993.
Limited cover for some organisations:
Some organisations are partly excluded. The access provisions don't apply to-
- non-personal information held by Government Owned Corporations (like PowerWater), Government Business Divisions, or the TIO;
- courts, in relation to their judicial functions;
- tribunals, in relation to their decision-making functions;
- a coroner, in relation to an inquest or inquiry;
- a magistrate or justice, in relation to a preliminary examination.
FOI only applies to local authorities from 1 July 2005.
You may not get information if it is already publicly available or cannot be identified or does not exist, or if the organisation does not hold it.
What about Commonwealth agencies and private organisations?
The NT FOI scheme does not apply to Commonwealth government agencies or private businesses.
There is a Commonwealth FOI scheme for access to information held by Commonwealth government agencies. If you want information from a Commonwealth agency, you can contact the agency.
For personal information about yourself, there is a Commonwealth Privacy scheme that applies to Commonwealth government agencies and some private businesses. You can contact the agency or business concerned, or the Federal Privacy Commissioner (phone 1300 363 992) to see whether they are covered by a Privacy scheme.
For more on freedom of information, and to view our FOI Frequently Asked Questions page.
Last Updated on
25 June, 2008