Freedom of information
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the Act) extends as far as possible, the right of the community to access information in the possession of State and Local Government agencies.
The Act does not apply to non-government entities such as private companies.
Access to Documents
The Act gives you the right to:
- access documents about the activities of Council created from 1 January 1989, including those created by Council and supplied to Council by external organisations or individuals.
- access documents about your personal affairs, regardless of the age of the documents.
- request that incorrect or misleading information held by Council about you to be amended or removed.
Documents may be written, printed, or electronic documents, maps, films, photographs and audio and video recordings. Other documents which can be requested outside the Act include those:
- containing public information.
- included in a public register.
- containing information available for purchase such as building permits and plans.
- available for public inspection or stored for preservation, or safe custody at the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV).
Not all documents are automatically available. The Act allows Council to refuse access to certain documents. These documents are called ‘exempt’ documents.
In some cases you may be refused access to an entire document. Alternatively, you may be given access to a document with exempt information deleted.
Here is a list of some documents that you may not be able to access:
- some internal working documents.
- law enforcement documents.
- documents covered by legal professional privilege, such as legal advice.
- documents containing personal information about other people.
- documents containing information provided to Council in-confidence.
- documents containing information provided to Council by a business.
- documents contrary to public interest.
- documents which are covered by secrecy provisions in other legislation.
- documents of a closed meeting of Council.
This should not deter you from asking for access as each document is assessed on its merits before a decision is made.
Making a FOI Request
A request to access information under the Act may be by an individual or an authorised person on your behalf (authorising another person must be in writing).
The application must:
- be in writing.
- clearly and accurately describe the documents you are seeking to access.
- be for specific documents or group of documents, not all documents in a broad category.
- include the application fee of $31.80 (unless the fee is waived due to hardship).
- be accompanied by evidence of your identity (such as drivers licence), if you are seeking documents about your personal affairs.
- provide your written authorisation if another party is acting on your behalf.
Timeframe for Answering Requests
Under the Act, once a valid request is received and payment of the application fee is made, Council has 30 days, to provide a decision in writing. Extensions are sometimes necessary to ensure that complete searches are undertaken or if third parties are to be consulted prior to releasing documents. Should extensions be necessary, Council FOI officer will seek an extension of time from the applicant in writing.
Appeal and Review
Applications for review of an FOI decision made by Council must be made to the FOI Commissioner within 28 days of receiving the decision from Council.