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THE STATE OF FREEDOM OF
INFORMATION IN VICTORIA

FIVE YEARS IN REVIEW
2014 - 2019

FOI REQUESTS RECEIVED

There are around 1,000 agencies in Victoria subject to the FOI Act, including government departments, local councils, statutory authorities, public hospitals, universities and TAFE colleges.

Between 2014 and 2019, agencies received 36,318 FOI requests per year on average (Table 1). There was a record 39,040 FOI requests received in 2017-18.

The number of FOI requests received by agencies increased overall. Despite a slight (0.42%) decrease in the number of requests from 2017-18 to 2018-19, the volume of requests received each year increased steadily, resulting in an overall increase of 14.5% (or 5,667 requests) from 2014 to 2019. Based on current trends, the number of FOI requests is likely to continue increasing.

Research shows Victorians are highly engaged and value their right to access government documents. For example, a study commissioned under the Open Government National Action Plan in 2019 showed that 85% of Victorians are aware of their right to access information and 90% of those individuals rated the importance of having this right to access information as ‘very important’ or ‘quite important’.1

The increasing number of FOI requests received may be due to greater media coverage and interest in FOI, and increased public awareness of the right to make FOI requests. 2

Table 1: Number of FOI requests received in Victoria from 2014 to 2019

COMPARISON WITH OTHER AUSTRALIAN JURISDICTIONS

In 2018-19, Victoria received the second highest number of FOI requests in Australia (38,876), only three less than the Commonwealth received (38,879).3

In 2017-18, Victoria recorded the largest number of FOI requests received by any Australian jurisdiction with 39,040 requests (Table 2). This was due to a first ever recorded decrease of 12.86% in requests received at the Commonwealth level, 4and a 7.23% increase in requests received in Victoria.

Similarly, Victoria is among the top two jurisdictions that received the largest number of requests per capita. In 2017-18, Western Australian agencies received 6.65 requests per 1,000 people, compared with 6.04 in Victoria and 5.86 in South Australia.

The large number of requests received in Victoria may be due to several factors, including the type of access legislation in jurisdictions.5 Victoria, like several other jurisdictions including Western Australia, uses a ‘pull’ model of access legislation. This means for an individual to access a document held by a Victorian agency, in most cases they must submit a formal request under the FOI Act. While this legislative model may include provisions requiring proactive publication of information, this is often limited to certain categories of information.6

Conversely, jurisdictions such as New South Wales and Queensland use ‘push’ models of access legislation, which require agencies to proactively and administratively release information on an ongoing basis.7 Push models encourage making a formal access request a last resort, which reduces the total number of formal requests received by agencies in those jurisdictions.

Table 2: Number of FOI requests received by all Australian jurisdictions in 2017-188

SOURCES OF FOI REQUESTS

Personal requests are requests made by applicants, or their agents (for example, their legal representative), for personal documents about the applicant.9

Non-personal requests include those made by Members of Parliament, the media, organisations, and generally include requests for documents relating to government or a government agency.10 Non-personal requests also include those made by an applicant requesting personal documents about a person other than themselves.

On average, personal requests represented 68.32% of total requests received between 2014 and 2019, while non-personal requests represented 31.68% of requests (Table 3). However, the percentage of personal and non-personal requests fluctuated.

The fluctuation in these statistics over the past five years may indicate changes in the type of applicant seeking access to documents under the FOI Act year on year.11 For example, an increase in non-personal requests may suggest more Members of Parliament, the media and/or organisations are making requests. This increase may also suggest a change in the types of documents to which applicants are seeking access under the FOI Act, including personal documents relating to a person other than the applicant, or more requests for documents about government or a government agency (for example, a government project or decision).

Table 3: Sources of FOI requests from 2014 to 2019

AGENCIES THAT RECEIVED THE MOST FOI REQUESTS

Between 2014 and 2019, 30 agencies (around 3% of all agencies) received approximately 85% of total requests.12 Nearly two thirds of these agencies are health sector agencies (such as public hospitals), followed by government departments, statutory authorities (such as WorkSafe), and law enforcement and emergency agencies (such as Victoria Police).13

Victoria Police received the highest number of FOI requests over the five year period (Table 4). For example, in 2018-19 Victoria Police received 3,991 requests, followed by Alfred Health (2,521), Melbourne Health (2,344), Ambulance Victoria (2,046), and Monash Health (1,827).

Given the high number of personal requests received by all agencies, it is not surprising the health sector and law enforcement agencies received the most requests overall. These sectors have a strong public facing presence and create and store large amounts of personal information about individuals including law enforcement and health records.

Table 4: Top five agencies that received the most FOI requests from 2014 to 2019 and the number of FOI requests received

wdt_ID 2014-15 &nbsp 2015-16 &nbsp 2016-17 &nbsp 2017-18 &nbsp 2018-19 &nbsp
1 Agency Number of requests Agency Number of requests Agency Number of requests Agency Number of requests Agency Number of requests
2 Victoria Police 2,823 Victoria Police 3,151 Victoria Police 3,366 Victoria Police 4,006 Victoria Police 3,991
3 WorkSafe 2,705 Alfred Health 2,568 Melbourne Health 2,505 Alfred Health 2,623 Alfred Health 2,521
4 Alfred Health 2,425 Melbourne Health 2,046 Alfred Health 2,468 Melbourne Health 2,343 Melbourne Health 2,344
5 Melbourne Health 1,866 Ambulance Victoria 1,781 Ambulance Victoria 2,156 Ambulance Victoria 2,251 Ambulance Victoria 2,046
6 Ambulance Victoria 1,671 Monash Health 1,550 Monash Health 1,621 Monash Health 1,856 Monash Health 1,827
  1. 2019 Community Attitudes to Information Access Survey: https://www.oaic.gov.au/assets/engage-with-us/research/community-attitudes-survey-2019/Community-Attitudes-to-Information-Access-Study-2019-cross-jurisdictional-highlights.pdf.
  2. For example, Australia’s Right to Know is a coalition of Australia’s leading media organisations and industry groups formed to protect the Australian public’s right to know (https://yourrighttoknow.com.au/media-freedom/). See also: Michael Slezak, Mark Doman and Loretta Florance, ‘This is a Cowboy Operation’, ABC News (online, 19 December 2019) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-19/vicforests-plan-to-log-native-ash-trees-on-public-land-maps-show/11805812. This article was prepared using documents obtained under the FOI Act. For an example of Parliamentary interest in FOI, see: Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, 28 November 2019, 4460, where Shadow Minister for Transport the Hon. David Davis asked Minister for Roads the Hon. Jaala Pulford in the context of the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, how the Department of Transport’s FOI arrangements will change with administrative arrangements under the new Department.
  3. Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, OAIC Annual Report 2017-18, 153 (https://www.oaic.gov.au/assets/about-us/our-corporate-information/annual-reports/oaic-annual-reports/annual-report-2017-18/oaic-annual-report-2017-18.pdf).
  4. Ibid.
  5. For a breakdown of information access laws across Australian jurisdictions, see Association of Information Access Commissioners, Compendium of Information Access Laws across Australian jurisdictions  (October 2017): https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/file_manager/Jurisdictional%20Compendium%20OCT%202017.pdf.
  6. See, for example, Part II of the FOI Act and Professional Standard 1.3 which requires agencies to publish certain categories of information on their website (if they have one).
  7. Association of Information Access Commissioners, Compendium of Information Access Laws across Australian jurisdictions (October 2017), 6. (https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/file_manager/Jurisdictional%20Compendium%20OCT%202017.pdf).
  8. 2017-18 was chosen for this table due to data limitations for 2018-19 for some jurisdictions. The number of requests per 1,000 people was calculated using Australian demographic statistics from the Australia Bureau of Statistics, March Quarter 2019, 14: https://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/ACFD01ECA5FD8A88CA25848800154862/$File/31010_mar%202019.pdf). See also, Association of Information Access Commissioners dashboard and metrics on the public’s use of FOI laws, prepared in accordance with Commitment 3.2 of the Open Government National Action Plan, available here: https://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/file_manager/Jurisdictional%20Compendium%20OCT%202017.pdf, 4. This data assumes applicants make requests in their own State or Territory and does not take into account international or interstate applicants.
  9. Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, OVIC Annual Report 2018-19, 85 (https://ovic.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/OVIC-Annual-Report-2018-19.pdf).
  10. Ibid.
  11. OVIC’s annual FOI survey does not collect data from agencies regarding applicant type for FOI requests.
  12. Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, OVIC Annual Report 2018-19, 91 (https://ovic.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/OVIC-Annual-Report-2018-19.pdf).
  13. Ibid.
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