Frequently asked questions
What can I request access to?
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) Act allows a person to request documents held by a Minister or agency. The agency may determine that the document is exempt, the document does not exist or cannot be located or that further clarification from the applicant is required.
How do I request access to documents?
A request for access must be made in writing to the Minister or agency who holds the document requested. The applicant must also include a description of the documents being requested. This description should be specific and focused enough to enable the document to be identified or located.
An application fee must also be paid. The applicant may request a waiver or reduction of the application fee if payment of the fee would cause hardship to the applicant.
Detailed information can be found here.
What happens when I make a request for documents?
If the Minister or agency is not in possession of the documents requested, the request may be transferred to another agency who will process the request. Applicants will be advised if this occurs.
If the Minister or agency considers the request is too vague or unclear, they will contact the applicant to give them an opportunity to provide further information to clarify their request. Once a request is sufficiently clear to enable the Minister or agency to identify the documents, it will become a valid request.
The Minister or agency has 30 days to respond to the request after the day it was received. Please note, the 30 days start from the date the agency receives a valid request and payment of the application fee (if required). The 30 days does not start on the date the applicant sends the request to the agency.
An agency may also extend the 30 day period by up to 15 days if it is required to undertake consultation with third parties. The agency may also seek an applicant’s consent to extend the 30 day period by up to an additional 30 days.
Who can a request be made to?
A request can be made to Ministers and agencies in Victoria. Agencies include:
- government departments;
- government agencies;
- public hospitals;
- government schools (through the Department of Education and Training), TAFEs and universities; and
- local councils.
Documents cannot be requested from any non-government entity such as private doctors or companies.
What is considered a document?
Document is a general term used to describe information held by Ministers and agencies. A document can be:
- a document in writing
- a photograph
- a book
- a map or plan
- a graph
- a drawing
- an audio recording or video recording
- a labelling and index systems
- a computer document, file or spreadsheet
- any words, figures, letters or symbols which contain meaning
Although many documents held by Ministers and agencies are stored digitally and are therefore easily accessible, some documents are held in hard copy (i.e. on paper, video, audio reel etc.). These documents are often housed in secondary storage facilities away from the Ministerial or agency offices.
What exemptions can agencies apply to documents?
An applicant is entitled to access a document unless the document is exempt. However, if it is possible to release a document with exempt material deleted, an agency is obliged to do so if the applicant so wishes.
While documents should be released with exempt material deleted wherever practicable this should not be done if the document as released would then be meaningless, misleading or unintelligible. More than one exemption may apply to a single document.
More information about the exemptions can be found here.
What happens when an agency makes a decision?
A Minister or agency’s decision may be:
- to release the document in full;
- to release the document in part;
- to exempt the document in full; or
- that there are no relevant documents in the possession of the Minister or agency.
Access charges may apply and must be paid before the documents are released.
Publication of notice of decision
What will be published?
The notice of decision you receive from the Information Commissioner or Public Access Deputy Commissioner will be published online with identifying personal information removed. OVIC refers to this as a ‘notice of decision in de-identified form’ or a ‘de-identified decision’.
What information will be removed in a ‘de-identified’ decision?
Personal information (e.g. names, dates of birth and addresses) will be removed in the de-identified decision. OVIC and agency FOI reference numbers will also be removed.
Will my name be published?
No, your name will not be published. All identifying personal information (e.g. names, dates of birth and addresses) will be removed before publication.
What details will be included in the published notice of decision?
- If you are from an organisation, the name of that organisation will generally be published (e.g. a media organisation or community action group);
- The name of the agency;
- The decision outcomes; and
- The reasoning behind the decision.
How will decisions be published?
Decisions will be published on the OVIC website and the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) website. AustLII is a free online database of Australian legal information.
Will all OVIC notices of decision be published?
Yes, all notices of decision for review applications received by OVIC on or after 1 January 2019 will be published in de-identified form.
When will OVIC commence publishing its decisions online?
From 1 July 2019.
Has OVIC advised agencies and applicants on this change in process?
Yes. From 1 January 2019, OVIC has told agencies and applicants that decisions will be published.
Information on this process has also been publicly available on the OVIC website since the start of 2019.
Will any released documents be published or described in the notice of decision?
Documents associated with decisions will not be published by OVIC.
Descriptions of such documents and/or general references to them will be included to foster transparency within the decision-making process and to provide clear reasons for the decision.
Will OVIC notify me prior to the publication of a notice of decision?
Yes. Both you and the agency will receive the notice of decision directly from OVIC when a formal review application is finalised. This will occur prior to publication and all parties will be told that the decision will shortly be published, in de-identified form. More detailed information on the review process can be found here.
How soon after a notice of decision is provided to me will it be published?
Decisions will not be published earlier than five (5) business days after the date that the decision was sent out to the agency and the applicant.