Right to Know Day 2019: FOI tips for the public
In Victoria the public has a right to request access to government information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic).
As we celebrate Right to Know Day 2019, it’s important to remember that this right of access is essential for transparency and accountability, and strengthens trust in government. The right to access government information also promotes and facilitates greater public participation and scrutiny and supports better decision-making.
This blog post contains some tips for the public in accessing government information and includes links to helpful resources.
Check agency websites
Check the agency’s website before you make a request. An agency is required to publish certain information on its website, so the information you are looking for might already be available. Some agencies may also be able to provide the information you want informally. For a directory on Victorian government agencies see Find an agency.
Make sure the information you’re seeking is documented
The FOI Act gives you the right to request access to documents. Generally, you cannot request information that is not in an existing document, or answers to questions that are not documented. A request must be for information contained in documents. For more information see Making a request for access.
Make your request in writing
A valid request must be made in writing. Visit the agency’s website to see how they accept requests. Some agencies have an online portal you may use to submit your request. Otherwise, you can email or post your request. For a list of agencies that accept requests through the online portal see Make your access request online.
Be clear and specific in your request
When writing your request, be clear and specific about what documents you are seeking and include as much information as possible. Consider:
- what the documents relate to (for example, a complaint or a particular project);
- the date range in which the documents may have been created;
- where the documents might be located (for example, John Smith’s email); and
- the type of document you want (for example, an email, report or CCTV footage).
For more information see Frequently asked questions.
Processing requests takes time
An agency has 30 days to make a decision about your request. However, in many cases this may be extended for a number of reasons including:
- the complexity of the request;
- the number of documents requested; and
- whether the agency has to consult with third parties.
For more information, see OVIC’s Guide to timeframes and extensions of time.
OVIC has guidance and resources for both agencies and the public. For more resources visit OVIC’s website here.