The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act) was enacted to promote openness, accountability and transparency in the Victorian public sector by giving the public a right to access government information.
Open and accountable government is the foundation of a democratic society. The right to access government information enables the public to hold government to account, participate meaningfully in society and support better government decision making. This right is as crucial as, and contributes to, other important rights such as the right to freedom of expression and the right to vote.
Information is the lifeblood of society and a valuable asset that brings power to those who control it. 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.
As custodians of information, government agencies have a responsibility to ensure the public’s right to access government information is upheld. Government is designed to serve its citizens; it exists to serve and govern for the public good.
Providing access to information is more than just a compliance exercise. It is essential to the long-term health of our democratic society by providing the information needed to allow citizens to effectively shape the way their State is governed. We need to safeguard the kind of society we live in by demanding transparency and holding government to account.
However, openness, accountability and transparency can only be achieved when the mechanisms to access public information, including freedom of information (FOI), operate effectively.
This report examines the state of FOI in Victoria between 2014 and 2019. From 2014-2019, the number of decisions granting access to documents in full, as well as the number of decisions made on time, decreased. The reduction in access to information and the longer processing time go against Parliament’s intention of the operation of the FOI Act and undermines the community’s trust and engagement with the public sector.
A central part of the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner’s (OVIC) role as an independent regulator is to promote understanding and acceptance of the FOI Act in Victoria. I trust the data and findings in our first State of FOI report will contribute to a greater understanding by agencies and the public of the operation of FOI in Victoria, and how information access rights can be better promoted and protected.
Victorian Information Commissioner