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Five key changes to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic)

Five key changes to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic)

By Elisa Hesling

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The Freedom of Information Amendment (Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner) Act 2017 commenced on 1 September 2017, which led to an array of changes in the area of Freedom of Information (“FOI”) in Victoria.

If you use FOI or have FOI responsibilities, it is important that you are aware of these changes.

1. New Commissioners dealing with FOI

The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (“OVIC”) commenced on 1 September 2017 and replaces both the offices of the FOI Commissioner and Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection. OVIC has a website, but still contains links to the previous websites for information about privacy and FOI. Responsibility for FOI lie with the inaugural Information Commissioner (“IC”), Mr Sven Bluemmel, and the Public Access Deputy Commissioner, Ms Sally Winton. 

2. Expansion of Commissioner’s powers

The IC has broad powers following the amendments, including:

• investigations and own motion provisions with penalties

• increase in types of reviewable decisions

• power to require further searches

The OVIC can also review documents claimed to be exempt as Cabinet material.

3. Reduction of time to notify applicants of decisions

The statutory time frame for notifying an applicant of a decision is now 30 days; a reduction of 33% from the previous 45 day time period. An FOI applicant must now be notified of a decision no later than 30 days after the agency received the FOI request. However, the Act outlines specific circumstances where the 30 days may be extended. For instance, where consultation is required or where the FOI applicant agrees.

4. New and altered exemptions

A new exemption applies to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission to protect documents relating to its work. Agencies may also need to consider whether documents would disclose information shared under the family violence information scheme established by new Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.

5. Increase in notification and consultation requirements

Seven exemptions – not one – now involve notifying and consulting third parties when an agency processes an FOI request.  Whether it is practicable to notify and consult is also a consideration!

If you make FOI requests, or work for an agency, then you need to be aware of these recent amendments to keep your practice up to date and effective.

 

Elisa Hesling, senior associate, FOI Solutions

 

Want to find out more? Register for the LIV's Administrative Law Intensive on 27 March where Elisa Hesling will be speaking more about the above issues. This intensive will also cover the most recent developments in judicial review and the latest trends in statutory interpretation. For more information, see here.


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