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Information Commissioner launches investigation into the timeliness of Freedom of Information in Victoria

Victorian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel has commenced an investigation into the timeliness of FOI in Victoria.

This own motion investigation is the first of its kind to be undertaken under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act).

The FOI Act was enacted to promote openness, accountability, and transparency in the Victorian public sector by giving the public the right to access government information. There are around 1,000 public sector organisations subject to the FOI Act, including Victorian Government departments, local councils, statutory authorities, public hospitals, universities and TAFE colleges.

Delay in providing access to information is the most common complaint made to OVIC.

In 2018-19, 18% of decisions on FOI requests were made outside the statutory timeframe. The number of delayed FOI decisions in 2019-20 is anticipated to increase due to COVID-19 and other factors.

“Providing timely access to information is more than just a compliance exercise” said Mr Bluemmel.

“Enhancing the public’s right to access information helps level the playing field and redistribute the balance of power from government to the public. It equips citizens, the media, advocacy groups and others with information that allows them to scrutinise decisions and actions taken by government”.

The investigation will examine the FOI practices of selected agencies to identify causes for delay in releasing government information. OVIC is reviewing data and complaint information to determine which agencies will be subject to investigation.

The Information Commissioner invites members of the public, who have experienced delays to share their experience. Submissions received may assist the Information Commissioner in identifying agencies that will be subject to investigation.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Information Commissioner may submit a report for tabling in the Parliament, setting out any findings and recommendations to improve timeliness in FOI practices across Victoria.

The investigation report and recommendations are expected to be completed in mid-2021.

How can I be involved?

If you have experienced a delay on an FOI request, you can make a submission by emailing us at investigations@ovic.vic.gov.au. In your submission, you could tell us about an FOI request you made to a Victorian state or local government organisation under the FOI Act that was delayed, and the impact of delay on your right to seek access to information. You could also share your views on how to improve timeliness in FOI practices.

Submissions close Tuesday 13 October 2020.

Investigations under the FOI Act are conducted in private and we cannot provide specific information about the investigation.

What can I do if I have experienced a delay on an FOI decision?

If you have made an FOI request, and are experiencing a delay in a decision being made, you can make a complaint to OVIC.

For media enquiries contact:

Simone Martin

t:            (03) 8684 7585
e:           simone.martin@ovic.vic.gov.au or media@ovic.vic.gov.au

Background information:

Information about Victoria’s FOI performance is included in OVIC annual reports. OVIC also published a report in February 2020 on the State of Freedom of Information in Victoria from 2014 – 2019.

The Information and Privacy Commission NSW publishes comparative statistics about FOI on its National FOI performance dashboard.

The Information Commissioner’s investigation will be conducted under Part VIB of the FOI Act. OVIC conducts regulatory action including investigations in accordance with its Regulatory Action Policy, with a focus on its Regulatory Priorities

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