Help pages

Contact us

If your question isn't answered here, or you just wanted to let us know something about the site, contact us.

Making requests

I'm not sure which authority to make my request to, how can I find out? #

It can be hard to untangle government's complicated structures, and work out who knows the information that you want. Here are a few tips:

  • Browse or search Right To Know looking for similar requests to yours.
  • When you've found an authority you think might have the information, use the "home page" link on the right hand side of their page to check what they do on their website.
  • Contact the authority by phone or email to ask if they hold the kind of information you're after.
  • Don't worry excessively about getting the right authority. If you get it wrong, they should transfer your request to the correct authority for you.
  • If you've got a thorny case, please contact us for help.
Who can make a request? #

Any person, of any nationality, anywhere in the world, however young or old can make a request under Australian Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

The Freedom of Information Acts simply say that "every person has a legally enforceable right to obtain access in accordance with this Act". A "person" can also be a body corporate, such as a company.

You're missing the public authority that I want to request from! #

We aim to cover all public authorities in Australia whether they are federal, state or local. If we are missing an authority please contact us with the name of the public authority and, if you can find it, their contact email address for Freedom of Information requests.

Why do you include some authorities that aren't formally subject to Freedom of Information?#

Right To Know lets you make requests for information to a range of organisations:

  • Those formally subject to Freedom of Information
  • Those which choose to voluntarily comply with Freedom of Information
  • Those which aren't subject to Freedom of Information but we think should be, on grounds such as them having significant public responsibilities.

In the last case, we're using the site to lobby for expansion of the scope of Freedom of Information. Even if an organisation is not legally obliged to respond to a Freedom of Information request, they can still do so voluntarily.

Why must I keep my request focused? #

Please put in your request only what is needed so that someone can easily identify what information you are asking for. Please do not include any of the following:

  • arguments about your cause
  • statements that could defame or insult others

If you do, we may have to remove your request to avoid problems with libel law, which is a pain for both you and us. Short, succinct messages make it easier for authorities to be clear what information you are requesting, which means you will get a reply more quickly.

If you want information to support an argument or campaign, Freedom of Information is a powerful tool. Although you may not use this site to run your campaign, we encourage you to use it to get the information you need. We also encourage to run your campaign elsewhere - one effective and very easy way is to start your own blog. You are welcome to link to your campaign from this site in an annotation to your request (you can make annotations after submitting the request).

Why do I have to ask for specific existing documents? #

Freedom of Information only gives you a right to "documents", which is very broadly defined as information in recorded form.

When it comes to making your formal application, it needs to be in the form of a request for existing documents — reports, briefs, memorandum, notes for file, tenders, etc.

However, it's a mistake to ask for everything! Remember to keep your request focused and ask for specific existing documents.

Does it cost me anything to make a request? #

Making a Freedom of Information request to a Federal or ACT authority is always free. For other states and territories there is an application fee around $30. However most jurisdictions encourage informal or administrative requests.

These requests do not have an application fee and happen outside of the FOI law. So while they can be a quicker and cheaper way of accessing information, keep in mind that informal requests don't come with the same rights, like review rights, as formal requests. To make an informal or administrative request on Right To Know just ask the public authority to treat it that way when making your request.

A public authority may also choose to impose certain charges to provide the information but they can only charge you if you have specifically agreed in advance to pay.

The laws contain a 'lowest reasonable cost' objective, meaning that if the public authority chooses to impose a charge it should fairly reflect the work involved in providing access to documents and must not be used to discourage you from exercising your right of access.

If a public authority decides to charge you for access to documents there are certain circumstances where the charges may be reduced or waived, such as:

  • Releasing the information is in the general public interest
  • The charges would cause you financial hardship (e.g. you're a pensioner)

Sometimes an authority will refuse your request, saying that the cost of handling it exceeds a level that would detriment their day to day work. At this point you can refine your request. e.g. it would be much cheaper for an authority to tell you the amount spent on marshmallows in the past year than in the past ten years.

How quickly will I get a response? #

By law, the public authority must keep you informed about the progress of your Freedom of Information request. It should take no longer than about a month for you to get a response to your request. For various reasons, this timeframe can be extended.

Right To Know will email you if you don't get a timely response. You can then send the public authority a message to remind them, and tell them if they are breaking the law.

What if I never get a response? #

There are several things you can do if you never get a response.

  • Sometimes there has been a genuine problem and the authority never received the request. It is worth telephoning the authority and politely checking that they received the request. It was sent to them by email.
  • If they have not received it, the problem is most likely due to "spam filters". Refer the authority to the measures in the answer 'I can see a request on Right To Know, but we never got it by email!' in the FOI officers section of this help.
  • If you're still having no luck, then you can ask for an internal review, or complain to an Information Commissioner, Ombudsman, or Tribunal about the authority, or both. Read our page 'Unhappy about the response you got?'.
What if I'm not satisfied with the response? #
If you didn't get the information you asked for, or you didn't get it in time, then read our page 'Unhappy about the response you got?'.
It says I can't re-use the information I got! #

Authorities often add legal boilerplate about Copyright, which at first glance implies you may not be able do anything with the information. This is likely to be incorrect. For example, the latest Statement of IP Principles for Australian Government Agencies explicitly encourages reuse.

Consistent with the need for free and open re-use and adaptation, public sector information should be licensed by agencies under the Creative Commons BY standard as the default.

You can, of course, write articles about the information or summarise it, or quote parts of it. We also think you should feel free to republish the information in full, just as we do, even though in theory you might not be allowed to do so. See our policy on copyright.

Can you tell me more of the nitty gritty about the process of making requests? #

Right To Know will guide you through each step of the way, giving you just enough information at just the right time. However if you're still keen to get your hands dirty, you'll want to check out information that relates to the jurisdiction you're making a request in:

Can I request information about myself? #

No. Requests made using Right To Know are publicly visible so cannot help you find information about yourself or another private individual.

If you'd like to request personal information you can do so privately by asking the public authority directly. Agencies will often give you this information when you ask for it or you can formally request it using a relevant law.

If you see that somebody has included personal information, perhaps unwittingly, in a request, please contact us immediately so we can remove it.

I'd like to keep my request secret! (At least until I publish my story) #

Right To Know is currently only designed for public requests. All responses that we receive are automatically published on the website for anyone to read.

You should contact the public authority directly if you would like to make a request in private. If you're interested in buying a system which helps you manage Freedom of Information requests in secret, then contact us.

Can I make the same request to lots of authorities, e.g. all departments? #
We ask you to first send a test version of your request to a few authorities. Their responses will help you improve the wording of your request, so that you get the best information when you send the request to all of the authorities. Once you’re ready to do that contact us and we’ll enable batch requests for your account.
I made a request off the site, how do I upload it to the archive? #
Right To Know is an archive of requests made through the site, and does not try to be an archive of all Freedom of Information requests. We'll never support uploading other requests. For one thing, we wouldn't be able to verify that other responses actually came from the authority. If this really matters to you, you can always make the same request again via Right To Know.
How do you moderate request annotations? #

Annotations on Right To Know are to help people get the information they want, or to give them pointers to places they can go to help them act on it. We reserve the right to remove anything else.

Endless, political discussions are not allowed. Post a link to a suitable forum or campaign site elsewhere.

Next, read about your privacy -->