Fact Sheet - Open Access Information for Citizens

This fact sheet appears below or can be viewed and downloaded here Fact Sheet - Open Access Information for Citizens May 2023

This fact sheet provides a guide to open access information that agencies must make available and assists you to understand your rights in accessing this information.

Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) all NSW agencies are required to publish a range of open access information online, unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure1.  Importantly there is a presumption in favour of release of government information to the public2.

What is open access information?

Section 6 of the GIPA Act makes it mandatory for agencies to release the following information, unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure:

  • An agency information guide describing an agency’s structure and functions and how those functions affect the public, as well as the type of information held by the agency and how that information is made publicly available
  • Documents tabled in Parliament by, or on behalf of, an agency
  • An agency’s policy documents
  • A disclosure log of information released under formal access applications that may be of public interest
  • A register of contracts an agency has with private sector entities for a value of $150,000 (inclusive of GST) or more, and
  • A record of the open access information that it does not make public due to an overriding public interest against disclosure3.

The Government Information (Public Access) GIPA Regulation 2018 (GIPA Regulation) also specifies that:

  1. Ministers must disclose any media release they issue, and details of overseas travel (including purpose and anticipated benefits, destinations, dates, number of persons accompanying the Minister and costs of airfares, accommodation and other travel expenses)4
  2. Government departments must publish a list of their major assets, the total number and value of properties disposed of in the previous financial year, their guarantee of service and code of conduct, and any standard, code or other publication in any Act or statutory rule administered by the Department (if any)5
  3. For local councils, Schedule 1 to the GIPA Regulation lists the additional open access information that must be made publicly available, including:
  • annual, financial, and auditors’ reports, management plans and various codes6
  • returns of the interests of councillors, designated persons and delegates7
  • agendas, business papers and minutes of meetings8
  • information contained in certain registers9
  • plans and policies10
  • development applications and associated documents (for applications and decisions made on or after 1 July 2010)11, and
  • information concerning approvals, orders and other documents12.

An advertising compliance certificate issued under the Government Advertising Act 2011 is open access information13.

Note: Ministers and their staff are not required to publish an agency information guide under the GIPA Act14.

What is the benefit/purpose of open access information?

The mandatory public release of open access information under the GIPA Act promotes consistent and transparent information sharing practices across NSW agencies, as well as providing members of the public with an immediate right of access to important government information.

In line with the object of the GIPA Act15,  the mandatory release of this type of government information helps to foster responsible and representative government that is open, accountable, fair and effective.

It does this by placing the onus on agencies to push information into the public domain, which, in effect:

  • promotes open discussion of public affairs, enhancing government accountability and contributing to the positive and informed debate on issues of public importance
  • informs the public about the operations of agencies and, in particular, their policies and practices for dealing with members of the public, and
  • ensures effective oversight of the expenditure of public funds.
How do agencies release open access information? Is there a charge?

All open access information must be available free of charge on an agency’s website, unless this would impose an unreasonable additional cost on the agency16. If this is the case, at least one alternative method of access must be free of charge17. Therefore, agencies may charge for open access information only if it is available for free in at least one other format.

In addition to online publishing requirements, local councils must also make open access information available for inspection and copying at council offices18. Local councils may impose copying charges “not exceeding the reasonable cost of photocopying”19.

Does the public interest test apply to open access information?

Yes. In some circumstances an agency may partially or fully withhold open access information due to an overriding public interest against disclosure20.

If an agency refuses to release open access information for this reason, it must publish on its website a record of the open access information it does not make publicly available due to an overriding public interest against disclosure21. If an application for open access information is made through the formal access application process22 and the agency refuses to release information the agency must provide you with written reasons23

How do I get open access information?

Looking at an agency’s website is a good place to start as open access information must be made available on an agency’s website, unless this would involve an unreasonable cost to the agency23. As a matter of good practice, the IPC encourages agencies to display its open access information prominently online, making it easy to access.

If open access information is not available on an agency’s website, contact the agency directly and ask for the information.

Do I need to complete a form to request open access information?

No. There is no formal requirement for individuals to fill out a form to request (or access) open access information.

Some agencies ask that a request form be completed for internal administrative purposes, and there is nothing in the GIPA Act to prevent this.

However, because agencies have a legal obligation to release open access information (subject to the public interest test), access to this information cannot be made conditional on filling out a form25.

If your informal request is refused you may wish to lodge a formal request for information.

I can’t find certain open access information online

Just because open access information may not be visible on an agency’s website does not necessarily mean it is not publicly available. In some situations, agencies may not be able to publish open access information electronically due to a lack of resources or technological capacity.

If you cannot find the information you are looking for after searching an agency’s website, or do not have access to the internet, you should contact the agency’s Right to Information Officer for assistance.

Alternative methods of access may include providing paper or electronic copies of information, or viewing the information at the agency’s office26.

As a matter of good practice, when information is not published online, agencies should note clearly on their websites the alternative ways that information can be accessed. This is in line with an agency’s responsibility to provide advice and assistance to a person under section 16 of the GIPA Act.

What are parent and subsidiary agencies obligations?

The GIPA Regulation sets out an extensive list of parent agencies and subsidiary agencies27.

To comply with their open access obligations, parent agencies need to ensure that the open access information of their subsidiary agencies is published28. A parent agency is not required to publish separate open access information for each subsidiary agency that they are responsible for (although in some instances they may choose to). Instead, they can include a subsidiary agency’s information within the parent agency’s open access information. 

A parent agency must comply with obligations under the GIPA Act on behalf of its subsidiary agencies:

  • If an access application is made to a parent agency specifically for government information held by the subsidiary agency, the application can be dealt with by the parent agency. The access application is to be dealt with as an application only for government information held by the subsidiary and not for government information otherwise held by the parent agency29.
  • Parent agencies are obliged to publish open access information as though the subsidiary agency is a part of the parent agency unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of the information.

For further information, please see Fact Sheet - Open access obligations on parent agencies under the GIPA Act.

I’ve spoken to the agency and still cannot get access

Members of the public who are having difficulty obtaining open access information from an agency may contact the IPC for further information and assistance.

Our office can consider:

  • an individual’s concerns and confirm whether the matter relates to open access information
  • a situation in which an individual appears to have been refused open access information not subject to an overriding public interest against disclosure.

Our possible response may involve:

  • talking informally with an agency to address an isolated incident or problem,
  • a more formal complaint investigation in light of wider systemic operational issues.
Other useful resources

Other resources that may be useful on this topic include:

For more information

Contact the Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC):

Freecall:    1800 472 679
Email:        ipcinfo@ipc.nsw.gov.au
Website:     www.ipc.nsw.gov.au

[1] GIPA Act section 6(1)

[2] GIPA Act section 5

[3] GIPA Act section 18

[4] GIPA Regulation clause 6(1)

[5] GIPA Regulation clause 6(2)

[6] GIPA Regulation clause 1(1) of Schedule 1

[7] GIPA Regulation clause 1(2)(a) of Schedule 1

[8] GIPA Regulation clause 1(2)(b)-(c) of Schedule 1

[9] GIPA Regulation clause 1(3) of Schedule 1

[10] GIPA Regulation clause 2 of Schedule 1

[11] GIPA Regulation clause 3 of Schedule 1

[12] GIPA Regulation clause 4 of Schedule 1

[13] GIPA Regulation clause 4(2)

[14] GIPA Act section 20

[15] GIPA Act section 3

[16] GIPA Act section 6(2)

[17] GIPA Act section 6(3)

[18] GIPA Regulation clause 5(1)(a)

[19] GIPA Regulation clause 5(1)(b)

[20] GIPA Act sections 6(1),(4)

[21] GIPA Act sections 18(f), 6(5)

[22] GIPA Act section 9

[23] GIPA Act section 61

[24] GIPA Act section 6(2)

[25] See GIPA Act sections 73, 55, 64

[26] See GIPA Act section 72

[27] GIPA Regulation, Schedule 3

[28] GIPA Act, section 18

[29] GIPA Act, Schedule 4, clause 6(2)

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