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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12924

Mr O'Keefe asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 21 October 1999:

(1) Does the Freedom of Information Act impose time frames for responses to be provided; if so, is (a) Comcare Australia and (b) the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office required to abide by the time frames.

(2) What remedy is available to persons or organisations who do not receive replies within specified time frames.

(3) Will procedures be introduced to ensure that these bodies abide by the time frames stipulated by the Act; if so what.

Mr Williams (Attorney-General) —The answers to the honourable member's questions are as follows:

(1) The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) requires agencies (under s.15) to advise applicants within 30 days of their decision regarding access. However where an agency must consult a third party, the agency may extend that time by another 30 days. The provisions of the FOI Act apply to both Comcare Australia (except in relation to documents in respect of its commercial activities) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

(2) A person or organisation that does not receive notice of an agency's decision within the time limits prescribed under the FOI Act can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT). The Commonwealth Ombudsman also has power to investigate other agencies' actions under the FOI Act, including decisions, delays, and refusal or failure to act.

(3) The Government is concerned to ensure that all agencies bound by the FOI Act should continue to give effect to the spirit of the FOI Act as well as observing its requirements. In this regard the Secretary of my Department recently wrote to all agency heads reminding them of their obligations under the FOI Act. The statistics in the FOI Annual Report for 1998-99 show that the vast majority of requests are processed within the required time frame. Having regard to this fact, and the existence of a right to appeal to the AAT or complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, it is not considered necessary for further measures to ensure compliance by agencies to be introduced at this time.