Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the FOI Act
5 July 2023 marked the 40th anniversary of the Victorian Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act).
The FOI Act sets out the public’s right to access documents held by Victorian public sector agencies and Ministers. The purpose of the FOI Act is to extend as far as possible the right of the community to access information held by the Victorian Government.
Victoria was the first State or Territory, and the second Australian jurisdiction after the Commonwealth, to enact FOI legislation, making it the oldest State or Territory-based FOI Act in Australia.
FOI legislation is essential to our democracy in that it promotes greater government transparency and accountability and enables the public to better understand the decision-making processes of government. It does this by giving any person the right to request access to documents held by Victorian government agencies and Ministers. It also gives each person the right to request access to, and correction of, information that concerns them and is held by the government.
Three key principles guide the FOI Act:
- members of the public have a right to know what information is contained in government records about themselves;
- government that is open to public scrutiny is more accountable to the people who elect it; and
- when people are informed about government policies, they are more likely to become involved in policymaking and in government itself.
Milestone celebration on 24 October
On 24 October, OVIC commemorated this significant milestone with an in-person event at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. This included a keynote address by the Acting Information Commissioner, Rachel Dixon, and an expert panel discussion, facilitated by journalist Raf Epstein, which explored the question: Why is public access to information fundamental to government transparency, accountability and public participation in democracy?
The panel included OVIC’s Public Access Deputy Commissioner, Joanne Kummrow, international guest Toby Mendel (founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy), inaugural Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan AO (Australian National University), and Associate Professor Jennifer Beard (University of Melbourne). Key themes discussed included:
- the evolution of FOI legislation and whether the original objectives of the legislation have been realised;
- what does best practice access to information legislation look like now and into the future;
- the importance of promoting ‘open government’ and ‘open by design’ principles; and
- how public access to information impacts government accountability and transparency.
Victorian Parliament’s review of the FOI Act
While Victoria’s FOI legislation is the oldest State or Territory-based FOI Act in Australia, it has not had a comprehensive review since it came into operation on 5 July 1983. A review of the FOI Act is essential to ensure it meets community expectations for accessing government-held information and responds to the ever-increasing digital nature of government.
On 20 June 2023 the Integrity and Oversight Committee (IOC) announced it will conduct an independent review of the FOI Act. We warmly welcome this review. The review is due to be completed by March 2024 and will include public consultation.
The timing of this announcement is fitting as we celebrate this 40-year milestone of the Victorian FOI Act and seize the opportunity to generate participation in the IOC’s independent review. We encourage everyone to have their say to stay up to date on the review’s progress.