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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good and welcome news on Federal FOI charges

Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information Brendan O'Connor yesterday announced the Government's fees and charges for the reform regime to commence on 1 November, and covered similar ground and a bit more in this answer to a question in Parliament. The new element, beyond what was first announced in March last year, and the subject of a draft regulation in December, is that all applicants will be given up to five hours of decision making time on an application free of charge.The previous proposal was that journalists and non profit organisations would enjoy such a concession. In a submission in January I argued this discriminated against John and Mary Citizen seeking to access information consistently with the new object of the act to increase participation in government processes, or to scrutinise government actiivity, quite apart from issues associated with difficulties in defining a journalist in this day and age.

Combined with the abolition of application fees, removal of all charges for access to personal information, and no charges where an application is not dealt with in time, this will be a big step towards reducing the cost barrier that has stood in the way of more widespread use of the FOI act for the last 28 years. The changes are as follows:
Fee Now From November 1
Application $30 No fee
Search and retrieval $15 an hour No change - $15 an hour
Decision making $20 an hour First five hours free, after that $20 an hour
When FOI request is not responded to within the statutory time limit Normal fees apply No fees
Internal review $40 No fee

Tasmania still leads in this area having abolished all processing charges while retaining the application fee.

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