But a decision made in October and only recently published (why so slow?) appears to be the first review of a decision under the RTI Act. The decision in the end is primarily about a refusal to neither confirm nor deny documents are held. The published summary of Tolone and the Department of Police (220006 9 October 2009) gives the gist of how the Police took a while to get on the right track in pressing the right exemption claim and the complex steps involved in following the RTI public interest decision-making formula, something the full text brings home more clearly. The formula as the Commissioner sets out is:
Section 49 of the RTI Act sets out the steps which must be taken when deciding whether disclosure of information would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest. The requirements of section 49 of the RTI Act must be read in conjunction with the public interest factors listed in schedule 4 of the RTI Act. Schedule 4 of the RTI Act sets out factors irrelevant to deciding the public interest; favouring disclosure in the public interest (Part 2 Factors); favouring nondisclosure in the public interest (Part 3 Factors); favouring nondisclosure in the public interest because of public interest harm in disclosure (Part 4 Factors.) In determining whether disclosure of information, would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest under section 47(3)(b) of the RTI Act, I must identify any irrelevant factors that apply in relation to the information and disregard them; identify public interest factors favouring disclosure and nondisclosure that apply in relation to the information; balance the relevant factors favouring disclosure and nondisclosure; and decide whether disclosure of the information, on balance, would be contrary to the public interest.
The matter concerned an application for documents relating to a complaint made to the Department regarding a criminal offence which allegedly occurred in Toowoomba in1975 and any corresponding admission made by the alleged offender. (The body of the decision reveals the applicant is the son of a man killed at the time. The Department initially relied on section 40 of the RTI Act to refuse to deal with the application. Section 40 provides the basis for such a claim if the application requests documents of a particular class, that contain information of a stated kind or relate to a stated subject matter, and the agency believes all of the documents to which the application relates are comprised of ‘exempt information’, as defined in section 48 of the RTI Act and described in schedule 3. However it failed to specify the provision of schedule 3 under which the information in the documents sought is exempt information; and the reasons for the decision classifying the documents sought as exempt information. Before the Commissioner, the issues changed and proceeded on whether Section 55 of the RTI Act, not Section 40 provided grounds for the agency decision.
Section 55 of the RTI Act provides:
Information as to existence of particular documents
30. The term 'prescribed information' is defined in schedule 6 of the RTI Act as follows: