Section 3 - Object of Act
Extract of legislation
|3||Object of Act|
|(1)||The object of this Act is to extend as far as possible the right of the community to access to information in the possession of the Government of Victoria and other bodies constituted under the law of Victoria for certain public purposes by—|
|(a)||making available to the public information about the operations of agencies and, in particular, ensuring that rules and practices affecting members of the public in their dealings with agencies are readily available to persons affected by those rules and practices; and|
|(b)||creating a general right of access to information in documentary form in the possession of Ministers and agencies limited only by exceptions and exemptions necessary for the protection of essential public interests and the private and business affairs of persons in respect of whom information is collected and held by agencies.|
|(2)||It is the intention of the Parliament that the provisions of this Act shall be interpreted so as to further the object set out in subsection (1) and that any discretions conferred by this Act shall be exercised as far as possible so as to facilitate and promote, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost, the disclosure of information.|
Promoting the right to access information
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).
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.
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.
For example, the object of the Act and section 16 facilitate and promote the proactive and informal release of information by requiring agencies and Ministers to publish certain information, to favour disclosure of information, and by outlining that an agency or Minister may provide access to an exempt document if it can properly do so.
Considering the object when applying other sections of the Act
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
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
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.
Agencies should not take a technical approach to interpreting provisions in the Act, processing a request or applying exceptions or exemptions under the Act.
- Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic), section 35(a).
- Victorian Public Sector Board v Wright  HCA 16 ; followed in Osland v Secretary to the Department of Justice  HCA 24 ; applied by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Monash University v EBT  VSC 651  and Knight v Corrections Victoria  VSC 338 ; applied by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Kelly v Department of Treasury & Finance  VCAT 1019  “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)  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  VSC 68 - (Beach J) (quoting Kirby J in Osland v Secretary, Department of Justice  HCA 37 - -) “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  VSCA 11  (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”.