Apply for Access to Council Documents

Overview

Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA), you can access and see a lot of information we hold in Council records (digital and hardcopy).

The GIPA Act commenced on 1st July 2010, it replaced the Freedom for Information Act 1989 and Section 12 of the Local Government Act, 1993.

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Our Agency Information Guide explains Council’s approach to the release of information:

GIPA provides four ways you can access information from Council and other NSW government agencies.

1. Open Access (Mandatory proactive release)

Under the GIPA Act information known as ‘open access information’ must be disclosed by us, unless it is not in the public interest to disclose it.

Open Access information includes information provided on our website, free of charge. For instance, information about Council, our policy documents, information about Development Applications and register of government contracts.

Council information can be found at:

Council must also keep a record of the Open Access information (if any) that we do not make publicly available on the basis there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.

2. Authorised proactive release

Under the GIPA Act we release information proactively; we are committed to providing as much information as possible for free (no cost) or at a low cost.

A lot of information is easy to access and available to the public on our website.

Need help locating information?

3. Informal release

You can informally apply for other information from Council. We can release information if there is no overriding public interest against the disclosure of it.

For instance, you may be entitled to information about yourself but not somebody else.

Information you can usually request this way includes:

  • Documents from Development Applications (that are not made available on Council’s website)
  • Information or documents that do not contain the personal information of third parties or confidential information

As we address your request, we may impose any reasonable conditions on the supply of this information.

For instance, where information is subject to copyright protection, the copyright owners written consent is required to gain copies of these documents.

Complete and submit:

Or

Include your full contact details and sufficient information for the information requested to be identified.

Note

Council retains discretion to require a formal access application in certain circumstances including:

  • Where a request involves a significant diversion of resources
  • The requested material contains information about a third party that cannot be deleted easily or without rendering the information useless, and consultation with third parties is required
  • The material is sensitive in nature and requires careful balancing of public interests

4. Formal release

Information that is not able to be provided via Informal Release can be requested via a Formal Access Application. You have a legally enforceable right to be provided with the information unless there is an overriding public interest against the disclosure of it.

A Formal access application may be required if the information you are applying for involves:

  • Information about a third party - whether that be an individual or a business
  • Confidential information
  • Commercial-in-confidence considerations
  • The request is in relation to current or proposed legal action
  • A substantial investment of time or resources is required by us to address the request

Formal access applications must:

  • Be made in writing
  • Contain sufficient information to enable the information requested to be identified
  • Be accompanied by a $30.00 application fee

Council has 20 working days to decide on an application (with provision for that time limit to be extended by a maximum of 15 days if records need to be retrieved from archives or third parties need to be consulted).

Decisions made by Council about formal access applications can be requested for internal review by Council, or an application for external review by the Information Commissioner and/or the Administrative Decisions Tribunal can also be made.

Complete and submit:

Looking for Council information?

We aim to publish as much information as we can. We keep several information registers so you can find it easily. This information includes:

  • Access to Council Documents
  • Contracts Register
  • Planning Register
  • Policies
  • Printable Forms
  • Development Application Register Documents
  • Flood Studies

You can find many more registers and other Council information at:

Need help?

Information protected by Copyright

Council is committed to meeting our obligations under the Copyright Act 1968 and the GIPA Act.

We will not provide copies of documents which are subject to copyright without the express written consent of the copyright owner/s.

Your GIPA review rights

If you have lodged a formal application to access Council documents and you disagree with a decision about the release of information, you have a right to have that decision reviewed.

Examples of reviewable decisions include a decision:

  • That an application is not a valid access application
  • To refuse to deal with an access application (including a decision that is deemed to have been made)
  • To provide access or to refuse to provide access to information
  • That government information is not held by Council
  • That information applied for is already available to the applicant
  • To refuse to confirm or deny that information is held by Council
  • To impose a processing charge or to require an advance deposit

A complete list of reviewable decisions is set out in Section 80 of the GIPA Act and are also shown on page two (2) of the Internal Review Application.

Generally, you have three (3) options if you want a decision reviewed:

1. Internal review

You have 20 working days after the notice of a decision has been given to you to request an internal review.

The review must be carried out by a person who is no less senior than the person who made the original decision and cannot be carried out by the person who made the original decision. The review decision must be made as if it was a fresh application.

If Council’s Chief Executive Officer made the original decision, you cannot ask for an internal review, but you can ask for an external review.

There is a $40.00 fee for an internal review application except if the decision is ‘deemed refusal’ and this could occur if your application was not processed within the required time. In this case, you cannot be charged any review fee.

Your application will be acknowledged within five (5) working days of receiving it.

Council must decide the internal review within 15 working days (this can be extended by 10 days if third party consultation is involved or, or by agreement with you).

2. External review by the Information Commissioner

If you disagree with any of the decisions listed above, you can ask for a review by the Information Commissioner.

If you are the person applying for access to information, you do not have to have an internal review of the decision before asking the Information Commissioner to review it.

If you are not the access applicant, you must seek an internal review before applying for review by the Information Commissioner.

You have eight weeks from being notified of the decision to ask for a review by the Information Commissioner.

On reviewing the decision, the Information Commissioner can make recommendations about the decision to the agency.

You cannot ask the Information Commissioner to review a decision that has already been reviewed by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

3. External review by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal

If you disagree with any of the decisions listed above, you can ask for a review by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT).

You do not have to have the decision reviewed internally, or by the Information Commissioner before applying for review by the ADT.

You have up to eight (8) weeks from being notified of the decision to apply to the ADT for review.

However, if you have applied for review by the Information Commissioner, you have four (4) weeks from being notified of the Information Commission’s review outcome to apply to the ADT.

GIPA FAQs

What is ‘personal information’?

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How can I access my own personal information?

You can access your personal information held by an agency in several ways.

Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) NSW the first step is to make an informal request for your information.

Agencies should make every effort to release your personal information in this way. In some circumstances you may need to make a formal access application.

You may apply for access under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act, under:

You may apply for access to your health information under the Health Records Information and Privacy Act.

Do all government agencies have to release information?

Yes.

All NSW government agencies, including government departments, government Ministers and their personal staff, public authorities and offices, local councils and courts have to release information as set out in the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA).

What is in ‘the public interest’?

Before releasing government information an agency must compare, the public interest in accessing the information to, the public information in refusing access to that information.

Agencies can only refuse access to information if the public interest against its disclosure outweighs the general public interest in favour of disclosure.

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What are the public interests against releasing information?

There are limited and specific interests against disclosure that an agency can consider. These are:

  • 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

What is the public interest in favour of releasing information?

There is no limit to the matters an agency may take into account in favour of releasing information when considering the public interest test.

What is ‘government information’?

Government information is anything held in a record by an agency, on behalf of an agency by a government contractor, or by the State Records Authority.

A record means any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written or electronic form.

Is any government information excluded?

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) provides a list of excluded information that, in the public interest, must not be disclosed.

The list includes information that is required to be kept restricted under witness protection legislation, information about the identity of jurors, and details on the child protection offenders register.

Can an agency refuse my request for information?

Agencies can refuse your request if:

  • Information you have asked for is already publicly available
  • You have not paid a deposit
  • Your request would take an unreasonable amount of time to process
  • There is an overriding public interest against disclosure

What are my review rights?

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Are there penalties if someone does not follow GIPA regulations?

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 Act
  • Directing an officer to make a decision he or she knows is not permitted or required by the 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.

These offences attract a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units.

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Who can make a formal application?

Any person can make a formal application for access to information held by an agency.

This should be the last resort, after the informal avenues have been tried.

How will an agency process my application?

Agencies have up to five working days from the day they receive your application to consider it and let you know whether or not it is valid.

If your access application is valid the agency will take steps to see if it has the information you want. The agency may need to consult other people, businesses or government bodies to find the information.

When the agency has finished consulting, it must provide you with the information unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure (public interest test) or the information is excluded.

If the agency decides your application is not valid it must tell you why. The agency must provide you with reasonable assistance to make a valid application.

Will other people have access to the information released to me?

If you receive information after making a formal application, and the agency believes that information may of interest to other members of the public, the agency ordinarily records it on the ‘disclosure log’ which is made available on the agency’s website.

The disclosure log describes the information that was provided to the applicant and, if it is available to other members of the public, how they can access it.

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 personally represent; the information concerns your business, commercial, professional, or financial interests or research undertaken.

What happens when someone makes repeated applications for the same information?

If a person has made at least three access applications within two (2) years that lack merit, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) may order the person to obtain NCAT approval before making another access application.

If a person is subject to such a restraint order they cannot apply to NCAT for approval to make an access application without first serving notice on the agency concerned and the Information Privacy Commission.

Can the Government release information about my business?

An agency may release information about your business in response to an access application, however, the decision will be subject to the public interest test.

If an access application covers your business information, an agency must consult you to see whether or not you object to the information being released. Your objection must relate to one or more of the five public interest considerations against disclosure set out in the Act.

If the agency decides that, on balance, the public interests against disclosure outweigh those for disclosure, then they will not release the information.

If an agency decides to release your business information, despite your objection, you have a right have this decision reviewed under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA).

What are the protections under GIPA?

There are a range of protections under the GIPA Act.

  • There is no action for defamation or breach of confidence when a decision to disclose information is made in good faith
  • No criminal action will be taken when a decision is made, or information is disclosed in good faith
  • No action for personal liability is available in relation to any action by an agency, or an officer of an agency, where the action was done in good faith for the purposes of executing the Act

What is IPC?

The IPC is the Information Privacy Commission, their role is to administer and provide independent oversight of the new right to information system.

The IPC is strictly independent of other government agencies, with the Joint Parliamentary Committee, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission exercising certain oversight functions.

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How can I complain about my dealings with an agency?

What can the Information Privacy Commission do?

The Information Privacy Commission’s (IPC) role is to promote public awareness and understanding of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) and provide information, advice, assistance and training to agencies and the public.

The IPC also monitors agencies’ functions and may report to the Minister for GIPA about proposals for legislative or administrative change.

The IPC may issue guidelines to assist agencies and the public on various matters, including:

  • Public interest considerations in favour of disclosure
  • Public interest considerations against disclosure of government information
  • Agencies’ functions
  • The public’s rights, including rights of review
  • Publication guides, including model publication guides or
  • Reductions in processing charges
  • Agencies must have regard to these guidelines when applying the public interest test

In carrying out these roles, the Commission has broad powers to investigate, including requiring agencies to provide information, and to conduct inquiries.


Last updated on 08 July 2020