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Whistleblowers Australia

Information, FOI and evidence

Information is a powerful tool in the hands of a strategic whistleblower, and the FOI process provides the easiest way of getting hold of reliable information which you can use freely. You can use information obtained under FOI legislation in any forum. So, start early before you blow the whistle.

Once you blow the whistle, your employer and others may try to delay and even withhold documents that would ordinarily be made freely available. So, work out which agencies were part of the communication loop and apply to one of the other agencies, as it may be less politically motivated to resist disclosure.

Appreciate that if your employer uses every/any opportunity to delay processing your request, then it is likely that it wants to withhold the information until after it has stitched up an agreement with you that you will never ever make a claim on it again about your employment. Don’t let it deter you; work out the rules and work around it.

FOI operates on a user-pays system, which includes charges for the application, photocopying and an hourly rate for the time spent locating and assessing the documents. Costs can be inflated and also used as a means of resisting disclosure.

Educate yourself about how the agency should operate in terms of timeframes, costs and the laws governing the exemption of documents from disclosure by checking the FOI Guidelines available on most state and federal websites of the Office of the Ombudsman. It may take time, but is usually productive, so start early.

Note that those in NSW should refer to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) in relation to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 at http://www.informationcommissioner.nsw.gov.au.

If you want more technical information on how FOI legislation should work in support of your application, get hold of a copy of a book by Anne Cossins at any major library. It deals with NSW law, but by reference to other state and federal laws. Ask for Cossins, A (1997) Annotated Freedom-of-Information Act New South Wales: History and Analysis, Law Book Company Ltd, Sydney.

Information obtained under FOI legislation can be used as evidence in a court or tribunal to prove your case or, indeed, in any other forum where you need to establish that your allegations can be relied upon. For example, the information may be used in support of letters to MPs, complaints to investigative authorities and media and parliamentary committee inquiries.

Go to http://www.austlii.edu.au and check the legislation. In most jurisdictions the legislation is still known as the Freedom-of-Information Act.