Know your obligations around FOI requests

As a public servant you hold important obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (FOI Act). 

The FOI Act provides members of the public and Members of Parliament a legally enforceable right of access to documents held by South Australian state government agencies, local government Authorities and South Australian Universities.

Its purpose is to make the business of government open and accountable and facilitate public participation in policy and law-making.

The FOI Act permits each member of the public and Members of Parliament to:

  • gain access to information held by state and local government agencies (subject to certain restrictions); and
  • amend documents relating to their personal affairs which are incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading.

What is discoverable under the FOI Act?

As a public servant, every document involved in your work is discoverable under the FOI Act. This can include hard copy documents and files, notes, video recordings, photos, diary entries, social media posts, text messages, MS Teams chats, email records (and even Post-it Notes).

What are my responsibilities as a public sector employee?

DEW often receives FOI requests (internal link only) that may relate to your area of work, and this can mean you will be called upon to assist in the discovery of documents to be provided to the FOI team.

DEW has a statutory timeframe of 30 calendar days in which to process and provide a response to an FOI request.

When you are requested by an FOI officer to discover documents for an FOI application it is important you prioritise this work to ensure FOI team members have sufficient time to review your team’s documents and complete the determination within the legislated timeframe.

If you receive a request to discover documents from an FOI officer, you are required to provide the FOI team with every document you have that falls within scope of the application.

The FOI team will then assess each document against the exemption clauses within the FOI Act, which may result in some information being removed from the document or the document being exempted in its entirety.

You are encouraged to provide any information to help with qualifying the nature of the documentation.  This helps to allow the FOI team to better understand context, background or existing issues that will assist in accurate assessment of a document against the principles of the FOI Act.

From time to time business units may receive direct request for access to government held documents, it is important that you discuss the enquiry with your manager (or the FOI Officers) to ascertain if the information can be released outside of the FOI process, or if it is best an FOI application is submitted.

Contact DEW’s FOI Team or phone 8463 6625 for further information on FOI requests (internal link only).