Right to Know Day 2019: FOI tips for agencies
As we celebrate Right to Know Day 2019, it is important to remember that the right to access government held information is essential for transparency and accountability, and strengthens trust in government. Access to government information also promotes and facilitates greater public participation and scrutiny and supports better decision-making.
In Victoria the right to access government information is enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic). This important piece of legislation applies to and is administered by Victorian agencies, with oversight by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC). Victorian agencies therefore play a crucial role in ensuring the public’s right to access government information.
This blog post contains tips for agencies in responding to FOI requests and includes links to helpful resources.
Government information is a resource
Providing access to government information promotes open and accountable government. There is a presumption of openness in the FOI Act and an obligation to consider releasing information outside of the FOI Act under the Professional Standards.
Help applicants with their requests
Agencies have an obligation to help applicants to make a request that can be processed. If a request is not clear or specific, or too large to process, agencies should help them to narrow the scope.
Search thoroughly and diligently
Interpret requests in a flexible manner, taking a common-sense approach. Make sure you search for all relevant documents and keep a record of the searches undertaken. For more information on your record keeping obligations see Professional Standard 6.1.
You have 30 days to process a request, which may be extended if consultation is required. The applicant can also agree to further extensions. It’s important to meet the timeframes so applicants may receive requested documents, or exercise their review rights, promptly.
Keep good records
Develop and maintain good record keeping practices to make processing requests as simple as possible. This includes keeping file notes and saving emails. Use a schedule of documents in making a decision.