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.