Part IB of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act) provides the Information Commissioner with the power to develop Professional Standards (the Standards) relating to the conduct of agencies in performing functions under the FOI Act, and how agencies administer and operate the FOI Act.
The Standards have been developed under Part IB of FOI Act and, as a legislative instrument, in accordance with the requirements of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 (Vic).
On Wednesday, 11 September 2019, the Standards were published in a special edition of the Government Gazette. The Standards were subsequently tabled in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council on Thursday, 12 September 2019.
The professional standards prescribe how agencies must discharge certain obligations under the FOI Act.
The Standards commence on Monday 2 December 2019.
Draft professional standards were available for public consultation for six weeks during March and April. Thank you to those who provided submissions. All reasonable submissions provided during public consultation were considered by the Information Commissioner in finalising the proposed standards. You can view the submissions we received here. You can also view our consolidated feedback on general themes from the submissions. We have only published those submissions where the respondent consented to us doing so and have taken out identifying information.
On October 8 2019 we held an information session to discuss the professional standards. This session explored each group of professional standards and what OVIC is doing to support agencies. You can view a recording of the session here and view the presentation slides here.
Frequently asked questions
What are the professional standards?
Part IB of the FOI Act outlines that the Information Commissioner may develop professional standards relating to the conduct of agencies in performing functions under the FOI Act, and the administration and operation of the FOI Act by agencies.
The standards are a legislative instrument that outline obligations that agencies subject to the FOI Act must comply with.
What do the professional standards do?
The purpose of the standards is to ensure agencies administer the FOI Act in a way that is consistent with the object of the FOI Act and Parliament’s intention that the maximum amount of information held by government be made available to the public promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.
The standards are intended to clarify, build on and modernise how agencies administer the FOI Act.
The primary goals of the standards are to:
- ensure that agencies administer the FOI Act consistent with its object in section 3 and Parliament’s intent that agencies make the maximum amount of government information available to the public promptly and inexpensively;
- set the minimum standard for how agencies administer the FOI Act; and
- provide clarity on how to administer parts of the FOI Act.
Why are the professional standards necessary?
The standards aim to promote greater public access to government held information, ensuring that agencies administer the FOI Act in a manner consistent with Parliament’s intent and the object of the FOI Act.
Further, the FOI Act predates the use of many common modern technologies such as email and online payments. The standards aim to make the FOI process more accessible and compatible with modern technology and community expectations.
This will improve experiences for FOI applicants when they make an FOI request. The standards will also assist agencies in administering the FOI Act by providing clarity on parts of the legislation and providing tools to assist them in processing requests.
Who must comply with the professional standards?
The standards will apply to all Victorian government agencies and bodies subject to the FOI Act. This includes government departments, statutory authorities, public hospitals, councils, public schools, TAFEs and universities.
Section 6W(1) of the FOI Act states the principal officer of an agency, and any officer or employee of the agency concerned in the operation of the FOI Act, must comply with the standards.
How are the professional standards structured?
OVIC has developed 10 groups of standards arranged by theme – there are 33 standards in total.
The standards are broadly structured according to the steps taken by an agency to process an FOI request.
Each group of standards contains:
- a heading describing the theme of the group of standards;
- a statement outlining the general principles and sections of the FOI Act that the standards are based on; and
- the standards which set out agency obligations.
The heading and statement do not form part of the standards themselves but provide context to the standards that follow. They also link the relevant standards to the FOI Act.
What resources will support the professional standards?
OVIC has published a suite of new and updated guidance materials that incorporates the professional standards. OVIC will continue to publish new guidance and templates throughout 2019.
When will these professional standards take effect?
The standards commence on 2 December 2019.
Where can I go if I have further questions?
If you have further questions about the draft standards, please contact OVIC at firstname.lastname@example.org.