Older FOI legislation such as the Commonwealth and Victorian acts are silent on what steps an agency must take to attempt to locate relevant material but a reasonable search (see OAIC Guidelines) is the standard. In the Commonwealth arena, whether "all reasonable steps" were taken is an issue on review where a decision to refuse access has been taken under s 24A (Chu v Telstra).
Justice Finn in Chu noted that while " an applicant might be able to help an agency in its attempt to locate a document, that person is hardly to be disadvantaged if he or she cannot." An applicant will often find it difficult to dispute agency claims that all reasonable steps were taken.
In a recent Victorian case the applicant pointed out deficiencies in the search process, to no avail, until the matter came before Deputy President Judge Hampel in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In Friends of Mallacoota Inc. v Department of Planning and Community Development (General)  VCAT 1876, because of what had happened, she took the unusual step of awarding costs to the applicant despite ruling for the respondent agency on the substantive issue, that the documents in dispute were exempt.
82. I have already expressed the view that the respondent’s searches were woefully inadequate. The applicant was in a position to demonstrate to the respondent, and did so, in precise detail, that its searches were inadequate. It did all that it could have, up until the time of the hearing to bring to the respondent’s attention to the deficiency of its searches and to request it to conduct further searches and to produce the documents sought in the request. That included making the second FOI request to the Minister. I am satisfied that request was only made because of the inadequacy of the original search, and the inadequacy of the Department’s response when taxed with that by the applicant.83. The respondent’s conduct in my view is unjustifiable. When I indicated that I would order the respondent to conduct further searches, the respondent, whilst maintaining its formal reliance on Burton, undertook to conduct those searches. Within a week, it had identified, and provided a further 1350 pages, which clearly fell within the terms of the search. Only six documents were the subject of exemption claims from this further search. Clearly, the bulk of the material should have been identified in a timely fashion after receipt of the request, and a more cooperative or responsive attitude to the applicant should have been displayed from the time it first raised its concerns about the inadequacy of the searches.