Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), all government agencies must release information unless there is an overriding public interest against doing so. The public interest test outlined in the GIPA Act sets out the steps to identify whether it is in the public interest to release information or not.
What is in the public interest?
Under the GIPA Act, all government agencies must disclose or release information unless there is an overriding public interest against doing so. When choosing to release information, the agency staff must apply the public interest test.
Before releasing government information, an agency must weigh up the public interest considerations in favour of disclosing information against public interest considerations against disclosure. Agencies can only refuse access to information if the public interest against disclosure outweighs the public interest in favour of disclosure.
There are some limited exceptions to this rule. For example an access application may cause a significant and unreasonable impact on an agency’s resources and the application could be refused for these reasons.
The public interest test involves three steps:
- Identifying the relevant public interest considerations in favour of disclosing information
- Identifying any relevant public interests against disclosing information
- Assessing the weight of the public interest considerations in favour of and against disclosure and determining where the balance between those interests lies.
What are the public interest considerations against releasing information?
There are limited and specific considerations against the release of information that an agency can take into account. These relate to:
- Law enforcement and security
- Individual rights, judicial processes and natural justice
- Responsible and effective government
- Business interests
- Environment, culture, economy and other matters
- Secrecy and exemption provisions in other laws.
For more information about the public interest test, please read our Fact sheet: the Public Interest Test.