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Section 3 - Object of Act

FOI Guidelines

Promoting the right to access information

1.1

Section 3 outlines the purpose and intent of the Act, which is to promote the public’s right to access information held by the Victorian Government, its agencies, and Ministers by:

  • requiring agencies to publish certain information about how they operate, and their rules and practices which affect the public (this refers to the publication requirements in Part II);
  • creating a general right of access to a document held by Ministers and agencies (this refers to the right of access in section 13); and
  • requiring an agency to favour disclosure of information where a discretion exists (this is supported by section 16).
1.2

The FOI Professional Standards support and promote the object of the Act by aiming to improve communication between agencies and applicants, ensuring agencies process requests promptly, providing clarity to specific sections of the Act, and making sure agencies give the Act a modern interpretation, both in practice and process.

1.3

Section 16(1) promotes the object and intent of the Act by clarifying that an agency or Minister may publish or provide access to an exempt document if it can properly do so.

Considering the object when applying other sections of the Act

1.4

Understanding the Act’s object is essential when interpreting other sections of the Act. This is because the Act, the Freedom of Information (Access Charges) Regulations 2014 (Vic), and the FOI Professional Standards should be read in a way that promotes the Act’s purpose or object (being access to information).1

1.5

When deciding whether to provide access to information, the object of the Act requires agencies and Ministers to begin from a position of openness and transparency. Judicial guidance from Australia’s top court and lower courts is that the proper approach to interpreting the Act is to favour access to information, rather than hinder access to information.2

1.6

Agencies should therefore aim approach access to government information from a position of:

  • transparency rather than secrecy;
  • releasing all information except that to which an exemption under the Act is necessary to protect an essential public, private or business interest;
  • providing access to information without an FOI request, where it is proper to do so or required by law;
  • providing access to information as promptly and inexpensively as possible;
  • providing applicants with practical assistance in exercising their rights under the Act, including when making a valid FOI request and identifying which documents an applicant seeks or does not require.
1.7

Agencies should not take a technical approach to interpreting provisions in the Act, processing a request or applying exceptions or exemptions under the Act.

  1. Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic), section 35(a).
  2. Victorian Public Sector Board v Wright [1986] HCA 16 [16]; followed in Osland v Secretary to the Department of Justice [2010] HCA 24 [14]; applied by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Monash University v EBT [2022] VSC 651 [37] and Knight v Corrections Victoria [2010] VSC 338 [18]; applied by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Kelly v Department of Treasury & Finance [2002] VCAT 1019 [29] “The combined effect of sections 3, 13 and 16 of the FOI Act is to confer upon members of the public a broad and ready right of access to information”. See also Sobh v Police Force (Vic) [1994] 1 VR 41 (Ashley J) “while the issue is ultimately one of statutory construction, the court should lean in favour of disclosure”; Department of Justice v Western Suburbs Legal Service Inc [2009] VSC 68 [19]-[20] (Beach J) (quoting Kirby J in Osland v Secretary, Department of Justice [2008] HCA 37 [65]-[66] [75]-[76]) “There can be no issue that the Court should strive to interpret the FOI Act “in a manner harmonious with its objectives, doing so to the fullest extent that the text allows”. Similarly, “[a]n approach hostile to disclosure of information in documentary form” must be eschewed”; Secretary to the Department of Treasury and Finance v Dalla-Riva [2007] VSCA 11 [13] (Buchanan JA) “…the objects of the Act set out in s 3 appear to me to warrant construing the rights conferred by the Act liberally and the exceptions narrowly”.
  3. Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic), section 35(a).
  4. Victorian Public Sector Board v Wright [1986] HCA 16 [16]; followed in Osland v Secretary to the Department of Justice [2010] HCA 24 [14]; applied by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Monash University v EBT [2022] VSC 651 [37] and Knight v Corrections Victoria [2010] VSC 338 [18]; applied by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Kelly v Department of Treasury & Finance [2002] VCAT 1019 [29] “The combined effect of sections 3, 13 and 16 of the FOI Act is to confer upon members of the public a broad and ready right of access to information”. See also Sobh v Police Force (Vic) [1994] 1 VR 41 (Ashley J) “while the issue is ultimately one of statutory construction, the court should lean in favour of disclosure”; Department of Justice v Western Suburbs Legal Service Inc [2009] VSC 68 [19]-[20] (Beach J) (quoting Kirby J in Osland v Secretary, Department of Justice [2008] HCA 37 [65]-[66] [75]-[76]) “There can be no issue that the Court should strive to interpret the FOI Act “in a manner harmonious with its objectives, doing so to the fullest extent that the text allows”. Similarly, “[a]n approach hostile to disclosure of information in documentary form” must be eschewed”; Secretary to the Department of Treasury and Finance v Dalla-Riva [2007] VSCA 11 [13] (Buchanan JA) “…the objects of the Act set out in s 3 appear to me to warrant construing the rights conferred by the Act liberally and the exceptions narrowly”.

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Last updated 19 May 2023

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