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The fees and charges payable by-
(e) an applicant whose application relates to information that it is in the public interest to make available are to be half the fees and charges that would otherwise be payable in respect of that application."
(1) An applicant is entitled to a 50 per cent reduction in a processing charge imposed by an agency if the agency is satisfied that the information applied for is of special benefit to the public generally...
(3) The Information Commissioner may, for the assistance of agencies, publish guidelines about reductions in processing charges under this section.
Information Commissioner O'Donnell is a persuasive woman, and suasion can be a powerful tool in such hands. But on my reading she may not have anything else in the toolkit if push comes to shove on agency practice in applying s 66. A decision to refuse to reduce a processing charge is reviewable but the name of the game should be to get this uniformly and consistently right across the public sector first time. Commissioner guidelines should have more force, more than the "must have regard to" formula.
(On a broader front the NSW Commissioner should have powers that have more grunt than at present in a number of other respects- for example to impose requirements regarding agency compliance with the act's publication provisions ( s 22 stops short of this) and determinative powers to decide review applications by requiring disclosure of information where this is found not contrary to the public interest (s 92 powers are limited to making a recommendation))
"Special benefit to the public generally" would appear to mean of particular value or advantage to the community generally (perhaps to a section or group), as distinct from information merely of value or advantage to an individual.
There is no prescriptive definition of “special benefit to the public generally”. However, as a general guide, information that better informs the public about government or concerns a publicly significant issue would be of special benefit or special interest to the public generally. For example, if the information would inform public debate about an issue, increase public understanding about government functions, or contribute to the public’s understanding of an issue of public significance (such as the environment, health, safety, civil liberties, social welfare, or public funds), then this would have a special benefit. Information that could be viewed as satisfying public curiosity would not ordinarily satisfy the special benefit ground.
3.2.2 iii) The issue the decision-maker must consider is whether the release of the information would result in a special benefit to the public, rather than whether reducing the charges would result in a special benefit.
3.2.3 For the purpose of a reduction in processing charges under section 66, the benefit as a result of the release of the information should flow to members of the public and not just to the applicant.
4.1 Below are some examples of circumstances where releasing the information may have a special benefit to the public generally
Where the law allows, or there is room for policy to dictate, it would be cost effective for an agency to waive charges for applications for all or at least some types of requests, although not for the completely frivolous.
In the longer term charge systems cry out for a cost benefit study of the administrative costs involved against what is collected, and other pluses and minuses of shifting to the Tasmanian model in light of experience there. I hear, contrary to what some concerned about a flood of applications if charges barriers were removed might expect, that there has been a fall off in requests there since the new act and abolition of charges took effect in July last year.