This policy explains how the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) handles requests for access to information created or received as part of its inquiries.

In the course of an inquiry, the ALRC creates or receives many documents containing information of relevance to the inquiry. The ALRC may draw upon this information in developing recommendations for reform. In some cases the documents may be directly cited as a source of information in a consultation paper or report. Some of this information is provided in confidence and may be sensitive information that requires careful handling. Other information may already be in the public domain. 

General principles

The ALRC has a commitment to open access to information. Wherever appropriate, the ALRC will make information it relies upon available to the public upon request.

At the same time, the ALRC must protect sensitive information provided in confidence. This ensures that the public and key stakeholders will continue to have the confidence to provide sensitive information to the ALRC with the knowledge that it will be handled appropriately.

The ALRC must also protect its ability to make full use of submissions to inform its deliberations.

Where a person requests a significant volume of information, the ALRC may seek to recover the reasonable costs of providing the information but will not impose charges unless required to do so by law.

Submissions made to the ALRC

All submissions received are considered to be in the public domain, unless the submitter indicates that the submission is confidential.

As submissions provide important evidence to each inquiry, it is common for the ALRC to draw upon the contents of submissions and quote from them or refer to them in publications. Public submissions will be published on the ALRC website, subject to available resources. Private addresses and contact details will be removed from submissions before they are made public. Where submissions are only provided in hard copy, the ALRC may decide not to publish copies on its website. Anonymous submissions, either public or confidential, will not be published on the ALRC website. Oral submissions are acknowledged on the website but are not published.  

The ALRC accepts submissions made in confidence and these submissions will not be published. Confidential submissions may include personal experiences where there is a wish to retain privacy, or protect sensitive information (such as commercial-in-confidence material). Any request for access to a confidential submission is determined in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act), which has provisions designed to protect sensitive information given in confidence.

Aside from confidential and anonymous submissions, the ALRC will not publish any submission that:

  • fails to protect personal privacy and that of others by including personal information about yourself or others
  • makes defamatory or libellous comments
  • abuses, harasses or threatens others
  • vilifies others, incites, induces or aids violence, discrimination, harassment, victimisation or hatred towards others
  • uses obscene or offensive language
  • infringes the intellectual property rights of others
  • does not address issues relevant to the inquiry
  • promotes commercial interests.

The ALRC will make its best endeavours to ensure that materials published to its website meet the above criteria. However, if you find anything that you believe is offensive or may not be in line with these criteria, please contact the ALRC immediately and, if appropriate, we will remove the offending material.

Requests for access to submissions made to past inquiries should be forwarded to the Executive Director. Requesters will be charged the cost of retrieving submissions from the National Archives (if applicable), and standard photocopying, postage and handling costs.

Confidential submissions

If a member of the public is seeking access to a confidential submission, access will only be considered in conjunction with an application under the FOI Act. In most cases access will be required to be denied to the document in accordance with the breach of confidence exemption in the FOI Act (s 45). However, consideration should be given to the age and content of the document and whether it would be appropriate to seek clarification from the submitter about whether the content is, or remains, confidential and known to only a limited number of people.

Advisory Committee minutes

The ALRC encourages open communication at Advisory Committee meetings. Meetings are run according to the Chatham House Rule, and any comments made at these meetings are not attributed to individuals in ALRC publications. This is to be made clear at the commencement of Advisory Committee meetings.

Due to the sensitive nature of minutes documenting Advisory Committee meetings, and the need for the ALRC to ensure continuing open communication at such meetings, requests for access to Advisory Committee minutes will only be considered in conjunction with an application under the FOI Act.

Where the minutes relate to an ongoing inquiry, the documents may be considered to be exempt under s 36 of the FOI Act as documents reflecting active deliberative processes. Where the minutes relate to a past inquiry, consideration should be given as to whether the s 45 breach of confidence exemption is applicable.

Consultation minutes

Minutes of meetings held between the ALRC and key stakeholders or members of the public may contain information that was provided in confidence, or may be information appropriate for public release. This will depend upon the content of the meeting and the understanding between the ALRC and the others attending the meeting as to whether the meeting was held in confidence.

Inquiry teams address the issue of confidentiality as part of a consultation meeting, and document any agreement or understanding in the minutes of the meeting.

To support the ALRC’s goal of seeking open communications with stakeholders, access to minutes of consultation meetings will only be considered in conjunction with an application under the FOI Act. Where the document is clearly an in-confidence document, it will generally be appropriate to exempt the document under the s 45 breach of confidence exemption. Where the document is not clear, it will be necessary to approach those who participated in the meeting to ascertain its status.

Correspondence

It is not always clear from the face of correspondence (including letters, faxes and emails) whether the information has been provided in confidence or whether it is publicly known information.

To support the ALRC’s goal of seeking open communications with stakeholders, access to correspondence will only be considered in conjunction with an application under the FOI Act. Where the document is clearly an in-confidence document, it will generally be appropriate to exempt the document under the s 45 breach of confidence exemption. Where the document is not clear, it will be necessary to approach the correspondent to ascertain its status.

Published on 17 June 2010. Last modified on 6 September 2017.