Information Statement

The Information Commissioner is the independent officer appointed to oversee the Freedom of Information and Privacy provisions of the Northern Territory Information Act. The Commissioner is also appointed as the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures and has responsibility for the implementation of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. (the Office of the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures or Whistleblowers has a separate website: http://www.blowthewhistle.nt.gov.au.

Brenda Monaghan is the Commissioner, Information and Public Interest Disclosures.

The Information Act

The NT Information Act deals with three important aspects of the way in which the NT government manages information:

Freedom of information (FOI) gives anyone the right to apply for access to government information, and to apply to correct personal information that government holds about them if it is incorrect, incomplete or out of date. It is about enhancing government accountability and participation in our democratic system of government.
Privacy regulates how government collects, manages, uses and discloses personal information. The Act establishes 10 Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) that bind public sector organisations. It gives people a right to complain about breaches of their privacy.

Records and archives management provides a legal framework for continuing improvements to the way that government activities are recorded or archived and the way that those records are managed.

The Office of the Information Commissioner

The functions of the Office of the Information Commissioner include:

  • Awareness
  • General Inquiries
  • Complaints
  • Policy Assistance/Input
  • Investigations and Applications
  • Improving our service
  • Managing the office

Awareness

We promote an understanding and awareness about FOI and privacy protection in the Northern Territory. We do this within the public sector and in the community generally.

We promote FOI and Privacy by providing information such as:

  • guidelines and brochures
  • presentations to public sector, professional and community groups
  • public displays and advertising
  • our website

We are always looking for new ways to promote FOI and Privacy. We welcome contact from people who would like us to give a presentation or provide information in some other form.

General Inquiries

We have a General Inquiries service to help members of the public with specific questions.

Inquiries may be as simple as wanting to know who within an organisation they need to contact. Or the inquirer may want more information about how a particular exemption works. We cannot give legal advice but we can assist with procedural questions and may be able to point people to relevant information such as guidelines, websites, decisions or provisions of the Information Act.

We provide a similar General Inquiries service for public sector organisations.

Complaints

We can receive complaints from:

  • an applicant who objects to an FOI internal review decision to refuse access, to refuse correction or to charge a fee;
  • a third party who objects to an FOI decision to disclose information; and/or
  • a person who is not satisfied with the response of an organisation to a privacy complaint.

When we deal with a complaint, we are independent. We do not take sides. We do not represent complainants, government organisations or anyone else involved in a complaint. We do not give legal advice.

We do our best to resolve complaints informally. Our main aim is to assist the parties to find a solution that meets their needs and obligations. We inform the parties about the rights and limitations in the Information Act, so that they can make a realistic assessment of what they can hope to achieve from the formal processes under the Act. We explore with the parties alternatives for resolution both within and outside the processes in the Act. Our preferred outcome is for the parties to agree on a solution.

However, if an informal resolution cannot be reached, the Information Commissioner has the power to conduct a hearing and to make binding orders.

Please view our comprehensive guidelines setting out our complaints process in full.

Policy Assistance/Input

We give assistance to government organisations that are developing or reviewing practices, policies or legislation. This includes policies about FOI or Privacy. It also includes practices, policies and legislation that raise FOI or Privacy issues. For example, a policy about use and disclosure of DNA information is likely to involve privacy issues.

We may offer assistance or input if an organisation consults us, if there is a public invitation for input, or if we otherwise become aware of a proposed policy or piece of legislation that might have FOI or Privacy implications.

An organisation must seek input from the Information Commissioner when developing a code of practice for its operations and when preparing or reviewing standards for the management of records and archives.

A Code of Practice can be established to vary or supplement the Information Privacy Principles for a particular organisation. However, a draft Code must be recommended by the Commissioner before it can be submitted for approval to the Minister.

The Department of Business and Employment prepares Records Standards and the Northern Territory Archives Service prepares Archives Standards to guide the management of records and archives by public sector organisations. The Commissioner must be consulted to ensure consistency with the objects of the Act.

Investigations and applications

In relation to FOI, the Commissioner can (on application from an organisation) declare a person to be a vexatious applicant.

In relation to Privacy, the Commissioner can:

  • conduct privacy audits of organisations;
  • investigate whether a compliance notice should be issued requiring an organisation to take action to comply with the privacy principles or a code of practice;
  • (on application from an organisation) issue a grant of authorisation to allow an organisation to depart from the privacy principles dealing with collection, use and disclosure.

Improving our service

So that we can do our job well, we keep up-to-date with developments in FOI and Privacy in Australia and overseas by:

  • regularly reviewing FOI and Privacy publications (including websites);
  • keeping in touch with other accountability offices in Australia and New Zealand (for example, privacy commissioners, information commissioners and ombudsmen);
  • being a part of various electronic FOI and Privacy networks throughout Australia; and
  • attending conferences and forums about FOI and Privacy.

We also conduct surveys to make sure that our services are relevant and useful to public sector organisations and to members of the community.

Managing the Office

We undertake various tasks to make sure that the Office runs efficiently and is accountable for its actions and the public resources we use. This includes general administration, staff management, record keeping, accounts and all the other things involved in running an office.

The main functions of the Office of the Information Commissioner are to:

  • promote understanding and awareness of FOI and Privacy in the community and in the public sector;
  • deal with complaints about breaches of privacy and about FOI decisions made by public sector organisations (from 1 July 2004).

The understanding and awareness functions of the Office involve (ss.86, 88):

  • assisting people to enable them to exercise their rights under the Act;
  • issuing guidelines to public sector organisations;
  • promoting understanding and acceptance within the public sector;
  • providing advice and training to public sector organisations;
  • conducting privacy audits;
  • examining and assessing proposed legislation and policies;
  • researching and monitoring developments;
  • undertaking educational programs to promote public awareness;
  • making public statements; and
  • consulting and co-operating with other persons and bodies.

As well as dealing with FOI and Privacy complaints, the functions of the Office involve:

  • dealing with applications to declare an FOI access applicant a vexatious applicant (s.42);
  • deciding whether to recommend to the Minister submission of a draft Code of Practice about how an organisation implements the IPPs (s.73)
  • dealing with applications to grant authorisation to collect, use or disclose information in a manner that would be contrary to IPP 1, 2 or 10 (s.81)
  • issuing Compliance Notices to ensure compliance with the IPPs or a Code of Practice (s.82)
  • consulting with the Department of Business and Employment and with the Northern Territory Archives Service to ensure that proposed standards for the management of records and archives are consistent with the objects of the Act (s.137C).

Office structure

The current approved staff of the office comprises the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner (0.6), a Complaints and Policy Officer (0.4), an Admininstration and Policy Support Officer (0.8) and an Office Manager (0.25). These officers mainly support the operations of of the Commissioner's responsibilities with respect to FOI and privacy.

The Commissioner's responsibilities include the Office for Public Interest Disclosures with a Chief Investigation Officer, an Investigation Officer and an Investigation Support Officer.

The personnel and operational budget for the combined office in 2010/11 was approximately $700,000.

What information is held by the Office?

The Office holds a number of types of information.

Guidelines, brochures, etc.

We publish guidelines, brochures and other written materials for the information of members of the public and public sector employees. A list of publications is available from the Office (see contact details below). Most of these documents are available on this website. Single hardcopies of publications can be obtained from the Office of the Information Commissioner at no charge.

While all publications are subject to copyright, permission is given for them to be downloaded and copied for non-commercial purposes, so long as there is appropriate acknowledgment of the source.

General information

We have information about the conduct of the Office's 'understanding and awareness' functions, including records of general inquiries, promotional and training activities, development of publications and presentations, contact with other privacy organisations, review of policies, and submissions to external bodies. This information is not generally open for public inspection or copying. A special request for access to information of this kind would be considered by the Information Commissioner.

Administration of the Office

We have information about the administration of the Office, including issues like purchasing goods and services, information technology, staff training, human resources, interaction with the Department of Justice, planning and performance. This information is not generally open for public inspection or copying. A special request for access to information of this kind would be considered by the Information Commissioner.

Formal complaints

The Office opens an individual file for each formal complaint received. Those files contain the formal complaint, correspondence and submissions of the participants, working documents of the Office, and materials created in the course of any hearing. This information will not be generally open for public inspection or copying. A special request for access to information of this kind would be considered by the Information Commissioner.

Documents in issue

In the course of dealing with FOI complaints, we obtain copies of documents in issue. Those documents will be kept in secure storage and will not be generally open for public inspection or copying. The copies will usually be returned to the organisation after the complaint process has ended. For reasons discussed below, the Information Commissioner will not consider requests for access to, or correction of, information of this type.

Other decision-making functions

We also obtain and create information in the course of other functions like considering draft Codes of Practice, draft Standards for the management of records or archives, applications for declaration of vexatious applicants, applications for grants of authorisation and whether to issue compliance notices. This information is not generally open for public inspection or copying. A special request for access to information of this kind would be considered by the Information Commissioner.

How to obtain access to information or seek correction of personal information

The Information Commissioner is not subject to the access or correction schemes in the Information Act. The Commissioner and staff of the Office are bound by strict confidentiality requirements set out in s.148 of the Act.

However, requests for access to information held by the Office will be considered on a case by case basis. In most cases-

  • requests will be dealt with within 30 days of receipt; and
  • access will be granted except to the extent that disclosure would be contrary to s.148 of the Act, or contrary to the public interest, as reflected in the exemption provisions contained in ss.44-58 of the Act.

Requests for correction of personal information held by the Office will be considered on a case by case basis. Requests for correction will usually-

  • be dealt with within 30 days of receipt; and
  • be considered in terms of the principles set out in the Act.

We will not deal with requests for access or correction if the information is, or has been, in issue in a complaint made to the Office. The Commissioner considers that it is more appropriate in such cases for application to be made to the public sector organisation that holds the information.

If you want to make an inquiry about obtaining access to information held by the Office, or about correction of personal information about you held by the Office, you can contact the Office of the Information Commissioner. We may be able to help you without a formal request.

If you want further action after your initial inquiry, you can make a written request for access or correction to the Information Commissioner. You should include a clear description of the information or correction that you want and your contact details.