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FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
The FOI Act provides members of the public with rights of access to documentary information that
prescribed Victorian government agencies have in their possession.

I have jurisdiction to investigate complaints about FOI requests where they relate to an administrative
action, such as a delay in processing a request, a document that cannot be found or which is claimed does
not exist, and any fees or charges imposed.

Over the past year FOI complaints have reduced by 30 per cent. I believe that this is largely due to the work
that departments and agencies have undertaken following my review of the FOI Act. This is an encouraging
sign that the recommendations in my report are being implemented. I tabled that report in Parliament in
June 2006.

FOI statistics

 FOI grounds for complaint                                                    2006-07                   2005-06
 Delays in processing                                                              33                        45
 Lost or non-existent documents                                                    34                        58
 Unreasonable charges                                                               5                         3
 Voluminous requests                                                                4                         2
 Refused access to documents                                                        9                        11
 Intervention by Ombudsman                                                          0                         2
 Other                                                                             22                        31
 Total                                                                            107                       152
 Requests for documents dealt with by the Ombudsman’s office                        7                         8



Review of the FOI Act
In June 2006 I tabled a report in Parliament on an own motion investigation into the FOI Act. I outlined
my findings and the outcome of my review in the 2005-06 annual report. Since then, in his opening of
Parliament in December 2006, the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser, AC, said that the
reforms recommended by me would be implemented.

An update on the adoption and implementation of my recommendations is provided in Appendix A.

The following cases illustrate issues that were discussed in my FOI review and continue to be monitored:



Part II statement
I received a complaint that a council did not maintain and publish a statement of the documents and information in its
possession, as required by Part II of the FOI Act.

I considered Part II statements in my review of the FOI Act and noted that departments and agencies should be
complying with its requirements.

However, I also recommended that Part II of the Act be reviewed. I do not intend to conduct further enquiries into this
issue, as DOJ has accepted this recommendation. DOJ is currently considering changes to Part II, as part of the
development of an FOI Amendment Bill that is due to be introduced into Parliament in the Spring session of 2007.




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  Interpretation of request
  I received a complaint from a Member of Parliament (MP) regarding the interpretation of his FOI request by DVC.
  He had requested documents regarding third parties engaged in the writing and/or proof-reading and/or editing of
  brochures for the Victorian Office of Multicultural Affairs (VOMA).

  The MP believed that DVC failed to identify one document that should have been processed as part of his FOI request.
  The document was an invoice for the service of drafting speeches for a Minister. The MP provided a copy of the invoice
  he believed DVC should have identified and copy of a decision made regarding access.

  VOMA stated that it had identified the invoice at an early stage of its document searches; however, DVC’s FOI officer
  interpreted the request as seeking documents from consultants/businesses engaged for VOMA and not those engaged
  for the Minister. Therefore, she believed the invoice was not within the scope of the request.

  I considered that VOMA’s interpretation of the request was too narrow. This is contrary to the objectives of the FOI Act.



  The following two cases are further examples of FOI complaints received by my office during 2006-07:



  Excessive charges
  I received a complaint about excessive charges of $3,500 imposed by the Wimmera Catchment Management Authority
  (WCMA) for processing the complainant’s FOI request. The request sought invoices and cost information regarding
  the production of various catchment management documents produced by WCMA over a period of 10 years.

  WCMA explained that to produce the detailed information requested by this FOI request would be an expensive and
  time-consuming process. My enquiries revealed that a number of the requested documents were the products of
  extensive processes, making it difficult to assign a cost at the level of detail requested by the applicant. A further
  complication arose due to the fact that the requested information spanned 10 years, requiring WCMA to access
  archival records and data from incompatible, older financial systems.

  Discussions between my office and WCMA concluded that the item quoted for ‘analysis’ had no legal basis in the FOI
  Act and should have been regarded as part of search time.

  My officers inspected WCMA’s financial systems, which they were advised could produce reasonably accurate
  summary cost totals for the requested documents. As a result of this investigation, a proposal was reached that
  WCMA could comply with the FOI request by providing summary cost totals to the complainant for access charges
  of $320. This amount was less than one tenth of the amount initially quoted to the complainant, which represented a
  reasonable compromise for both parties.

  Although a compromise was reached between my office and WCMA, the complainant chose not to take his FOI
  request any further. WCMA advised that it was very appreciative of the advice it received from my office.




64 ombudsman victoria annual report 07
Missing FOI request
I received a complaint about a delay by DOI in responding to a request for information. The applicant had sent his
initial request in July 2005, as well as a further letter in February 2006.

My office made enquiries about the matter. DOI claimed that it had not been able to respond to the request because it
had not received the original request or letter. My office then contacted the applicant who provided a copy of the letter
of February 2006. This was forwarded to DOI so that it could begin processing the request immediately.

Further enquiries by my office revealed that DOI had incorrectly filed the letters in an unrelated file without being
actioned, as they were not originally identified as an FOI request. DOI apologised for this oversight and stated that
it would take steps to ensure that it did not occur again.




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