In relation to formal access applications, the GIPA Act provides discretion for agencies to refuse to search for information or deal with an application where this would require an unreasonable and substantial diversion of the agency’s resources (see s 53(5) and s 60(1)(a)).
Whether a diversion of resources would be unreasonable and substantial depends on the nature of the request and the capacity of the receiving agency. It will therefore vary between agencies and should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Questions to consider include:
- The size of the agency
- Whether the agency has a dedicated GIPA unit whose core function it is to process information request
- Staffing and agency resources for processing GIPA application
- The number of active GIPA applications and perceived future demand based on recent trends
- The scope and complexity of the request and the volume of information captured by the application
- The apparent public interest considerations in favour of releasing the requested information
- The age of the information and where it is located, eg, archived off-site or in a back-up system that is not easily searchable
- The number and intricacy of necessary third party consultations
- The expected time for processing the request from start to finish.
In terms of reasonableness, smaller agencies with no dedicated GIPA unit that receive several large requests for information at the same time may not have the resources or staff to process the applications without significantly impacting on their ability to carry out the core work of the agency.
This will obviously depend on the circumstances. The important thing to remember is that decisions not to search for information, or to refuse to deal with an access application, because of an unreasonable and substantial diversion of resources are reviewable decisions under the GIPA Act.
Therefore, agencies should consider all information requests carefully, be specific with any reasons for refusal based on this ground, and document those reasons clearly.