The Office of the Victorian Commissioner (OVIC) has published a report on the State of Freedom of Information in Victoria: Five Years in Review 2014-2019.
The report provides an overview of the administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act) by Victorian government agencies over the past five years.
OVIC published the report to measure the effectiveness of the freedom of information (FOI) system in Victoria, highlight trends and identify areas for improvement.
Data was analysed from agencies and OVIC relating to FOI requests received, decision making, reviews, complaints, costs and challenges faced by agencies in administering the FOI Act.
The data shows that, over the past five years, most FOI requests were decided on time, most requests were granted in full, and only a relatively small percentage of requests were subject to a review or complaint made to OVIC or review by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
While data suggests FOI in Victoria is functioning relatively well, several areas require improvement.
From 2014-2019, the number of decisions granting access to documents in full, as well as the number of decisions made on time, decreased. The reduction in access to information and the longer processing time go against Parliament’s intention of the operation of the FOI Act.
The number of complaints and reviews received by OVIC, and the number of reviews received by VCAT, also increased.
“Providing access to government information is more than just a compliance exercise — it is essential to the foundation of a democratic society,” said Victorian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel.
“I encourage agencies to let full access be the rule, and refusal the exception”.
OVIC encourages agencies to proactively and informally release information outside the FOI Act to reduce the need for FOI requests and ease some of the challenges in administering the FOI Act.
It is hoped this report will improve understanding of the FOI Act in Victoria and how the public’s right to access information can be better promoted and protected.
OVIC will publish a discussion paper on proactive and informal release in the Victorian public sector in March 2020. The paper will seek to better understand the assistance agencies need to provide greater proactive and informal access to information.