Obtaining information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009
Much of our information is publicly available free of charge on our websites, through the Information Centre, our offices, libraries and public registers. Information is also available for inspection or purchase at the lowest reasonable cost.
Government Information (Public Access) Act (GIPA Act)
What is the GIPA Act?
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) gives you the right to access government information you ask for, unless there is an overriding public interest against release.
What is government information?
Government information is any record held by an agency, a private sector entity or the State Records Authority to which the agency has an immediate right of access, or a record that is in the possession or under the control of a person in his or her capacity as an officer of the agency. A record means any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written form or by electronic process, or in any other manner or by any other means.
How is information made available?
There are four ways in which information is made available under the GIPA Act.
1. Mandatory disclosure
The following open access information must be disclosed free of charge:
2. Proactive release
We will proactively release as much information as possible. Sometimes this may not be possible, for instance, if the information concerns another party's affairs. You can ask what further information we will make available, in addition to the information already publicly accessible. Contact the office you think is likely to hold the information or the Information Centre if you are unsure where the information may be held.
3. Informal release
You can ask for specific information (including your personal information) on an informal basis. Contact the office you think is likely to hold the information or contact the Information Centre if you are unsure where the information may be held.
We will give you a decision as quickly as possible. If we can't provide a final decision within 20 working days, we will let you know when you can expect one.
There is no right of review if you are not happy with an informal decision. If you make a formal application for the information, you will then have review rights.
4. Formal release
This is a last resort. You should first see what information is publicly available or will be made available. However, there may be public interest reasons why the information may not be released informally, or a third party will need to be consulted in relation to the release of their business or personal information, in which case a formal application should be lodged.
You can ask for your personal information under the GIPA Act which defines personal information as information or opinion about a person who can be identified from that information or opinion. It also includes such things as an individual's fingerprints, retina prints, body samples or genetic characteristics. Examples include your financial, medical or educational information.
We will try to comply with your request for your personal information without the need for a formal application, but you need to prove your identity. Sometimes we may have to ask you to put in a formal application.
You can also ask for and amend your personal information under the privacy legislation. Refer to the your privacy page on our website for further details.
How do I apply formally for information under the GIPA Act?
- Consider what personal or non-personal information you would like.
- Contact a Right to Information/Privacy Officer if you would like help with your application.
- Submit your request using the appropriate agency application form - Office of Environment and Heritage/Royal Botanic Gardens (PDF 66KB) or Environment Protection Authority (PDF 49KB) - or by letter which:
- states that it is an access application made under the GIPA Act
- gives a postal address so we can write to you
- provides a detailed description about the information you want and is as specific as possible, including information that you think should be taken into account when a decision is made on the application, such as why you are asking for the information or why you feel it should be released - this will help to keep the cost of your application down and help us to identify the information
- state which agency you are seeking information from - OEH Right to Information/Privacy Officers also process formal applications on behalf of the Environment Protection Authority and Royal Botanic Gardens and Domains Trust
- Enclose the $30 application fee with your application form - payment and lodgement details are given on the application form. Payment should be made to OEH for all applications. The application fee covers the first hour of processing time or the first two hours if a 50% reduction of charges has been granted.
How will my formal access application be processed?
We will advise you within five working days of receiving your application if it is valid under the GIPA Act. If it is not valid, we will tell you why and help you to make it valid.
We will then process your application by searching for the information or let you know if it is more appropriate for your application to be dealt with by another agency.
In processing your application, we may have to consult other people, businesses or government agencies on the release of information that relates to them. A decision is then made:
- To provide access
- That the information is not held
- That the information is already available to you
- To refuse to provide access because there is an overriding public interest against disclosure
- To refuse to deal with your application
- To refuse to confirm or deny that the information is held, because there is an overriding public interest against disclosure confirming or denying that fact.
We will provide you with reasons for making any of the above decisions.
If we decide to defer access, we will give you reasons for deferral and when you will be given access.
When will my application be decided?
We will try to deal with your request as soon as possible and within 20 working days of receiving your application. If we need to consult a third party or we need to retrieve archived records, the 20-day period will be extended by 10-15 days. We may not always be able to meet these timeframes, for example, if there is a large amount of information or many people to consult. We will let you know if this is the case and negotiate a longer timeframe with you. If your request will involve an unreasonable amount of processing work and time, we will ask you to revise your request. The time to revise the request will not be counted in calculating the deadline.
If we do not decide your access application within the deadline, it is deemed to be refused. We will continue to process your application, but your application fee will be refunded and you may seek a review of this deemed refusal. This will not apply if an extension of time has been arranged or payment of an advance deposit is pending. You will be advised of any changes to the timeframe in writing.
What fees and charges will I have to pay?
In addition to the $30 application fee, we may charge $30 per hour after the first hour to search for the information; consult third parties and make a decision about access (unless you have asked for your personal information, in which case the first 20 processing hours are free). You will be given a 50% reduction if you can show you would suffer financial hardship, are a full-time student or a not-for-profit organisation, or you can show that the information is of special benefit to the public generally. You will need to provide supporting evidence.
We can also waive, reduce or refund the fees and charges depending on the reasons you put forward.
We may ask for an advance deposit to cover the estimated processing charges. You will be given four weeks to pay the deposit. The time allowed to finalise your application does not include the time waiting for an advance deposit to be paid. Any deposit paid will be refunded if we do not decide your application in time.
You can ask to be given access to photocopies of the information or for it to be provided electronically on CD, DVD or by email to minimise the impact on the environment.
Will information not be made available under a formal decision?
We try to make information available wherever possible. However, you may not be able to obtain information if there is an overriding public interest against disclosure. This can apply to information such as:
- Cabinet information
- confidential information
- information that would breach another person's privacy
- information that would prejudice someone's business, commercial, professional or financial interests
- information that would affect law enforcement and security
- information relating to sensitive threatened species and Aboriginal cultural heritage issues.
We can only refuse access to information if the public interests against disclosure outweigh the general public interests in favour of disclosure. There is no limit to the matters we can take into account in favour of releasing information. We will let you know the reasons if we decide not to release information.
On what other grounds could my formal application be refused?
We can also refuse an application if:
- your request would take an unreasonable and substantial amount of time and resources to process - we will help you refine your application so that we can process it
- you do not pay a deposit that we may ask for
- the information you ask for is already publicly available
- we have already decided a previous application from you for the information (or information that is substantially the same) and there are no reasonable grounds for believing that we would make a different decision
- the information is or has been the subject of a subpoena or other court order for the production of documents and is available to you because we have complied with that subpoena or court order
- we do not hold the information.
What if I don't agree with a decision?
You can have the following decisions reviewed by us, the Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC) and/or the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal:
- a decision that your application is not a valid access application
- a decision to transfer your application to another agency
- a decision to refuse to deal with your application (including a decision that is deemed to have been made because we didn't meet the decision deadline)
- a decision to provide access or to refuse to provide access to information
- a decision that government information is not held by us
- a decision that information applied for is already available to you
- a decision to refuse to confirm or deny that information is held by us
- a decision to defer the provision of access to information
- a decision to provide access in a particular way (or a decision not to provide access in the way asked by you)
- a decision to impose a processing charge or to require an advance deposit
- a decision to refuse a reduction in a processing charge
- a decision to refuse to deal further with your application because you did not pay an advance deposit within the time required for payment
- a decision to include information in a disclosure log despite your objections (or a decision that you were not entitled to object).
You can ask for a decision to be reviewed if you are the access applicant or if a decision has been made to give an applicant access to information that relates to your business, commercial, professional, financial, or personal interests or research contrary to your objections.
What is an internal review?
An internal review is conducted by someone who is not less senior than the person who made the decision and who was not involved in the original decision. The reviewer will make a new decision as if the original decision had never been made.
You can apply for an internal review within 20 working days of a decision (or, if we don't decide your application in time, within 20 working days of the date it should have been decided which is the date of deemed refusal). To apply, complete an internal review application form for the appropriate agency - Office of Environment and Heritage/Royal Botanic Gardens (PDF 60KB) or Environment Protection Authority (PDF 43KB) - or send us a letter putting forward your reasons why the decision should be changed.
A $40 application fee is payable. Details on payment of the application fee and how to lodge the review application are given on the application form.
You do not need to pay an internal review application fee if we did not decide your application on time. No other charges are involved. The internal review application fee may be refunded if the review decision is significantly different from the original decision.
The internal review will be decided within 15 working days of receiving the application for an internal review. This may be extended by up to 10 working days if we need to consult another person whom we did not previously consult, or by agreement with you.
What is a review by the Information Commissioner?
If you formally applied for information and don't agree with the internal review decision or do not want one, you can ask for a review by the Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC). You will have 40 working days to ask for this review.
Other people who are affected by a decision they are not happy with must first apply for an internal review before applying to the Information Commissioner. This includes third parties consulted as part of processing and making a decision in respect of an access application.
There is no cost involved in seeking a review by the Information Commissioner and no time limit imposed on the Information Commissioner for completing a review.
The Information Commissioner can make recommendations to us about the decision, including that we reconsider the decision and make a new one (even if an internal review decision has been made).
What is a review by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal?
If you don't agree with the Information Commissioner's or the internal reviewer's decisions or you do not want any of these reviews, you can apply to the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review.
If you have already had a review by the Information Commissioner, you will have 20 working days from when the Information Commissioner advises of the completion of the review to apply to the Tribunal.
Otherwise, you will have 40 working days from the date of the decision to apply to the Tribunal. Contact the Tribunal for advice about the process and any fees payable.
We have to justify our decision to the Tribunal. However, a third party (that is, someone who has not applied for the information but is affected by our decision to release information) who seeks a review will have the burden of showing that there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of information.
Will other people have access to the information released to me?
If you receive information after making a formal application and we think other people will be interested in it, we will record it on our disclosure log which describes the information that was provided, the date the application was decided, and how other members of the public can access it.
If you are the access applicant or you have been consulted or should have been consulted on the release of information, you can object to information being included in the disclosure log if it includes personal information about you or about a deceased person that you represent or if the information concerns your business, commercial, professional, or financial interests or research.
What happens if someone does not follow the GIPA Act requirements?
There are a range of penalties that can be applied under the GIPA Act for the following conduct:
- an officer knowingly deciding a formal access application contrary to the requirements of the GIPA Act
- directing an officer to make a decision he or she knows is not permitted or required by the GIPA Act
- improperly influencing a decision on an access application
- knowingly misleading or deceiving an officer for the purpose of obtaining access to government information
- concealing, destroying or altering information for the purpose of preventing the release of information.
How can I complain about my dealings with OEH in relation to the GIPA Act?
You can complain to the Information Commissioner.
What would you like to do next?
Page last updated: 18 January 2016