The audit examined the extent to which the 11 Victorian public sector (VPS) departments and Victoria Police meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
Freedom of Information (FOI) is a cornerstone of a thriving democracy. Since FOI legislation was introduced 30 years ago, Victoria has gone from being at the forefront of FOI law and administration to one of the least progressive jurisdictions in Australia. Over time, apathy and resistance to scrutiny have adversely affected the operation of the Act, restricting the amount of information being released. As a result, agencies are not meeting the object of the Act, which is ‘to extend as far as possible the right of the community to access information’.
The public’s right to timely, comprehensive and accurate information is consequently being frustrated. The VPS’s systemic failure to support this right is a failure to deliver Parliament’s intent.
The prevailing culture and lack of transparent processes allow principal officers—secretaries and chief executive officers of agencies—to avoid fulfilling their responsibilities. Principal officers are not being held to account for their agency’s underperformance and non-compliance. Agencies are routinely disregarding the 45- day statutory time limit for processing requests and the five-day ministerial noting period, and there are serious flaws in record keeping practices and FOI searches in the Department of Human Services and Victoria Police.
The Department of Justice has not satisfactorily fulfilled its role as lead agency for FOI. More effective leadership is required to promote an appropriate culture, improve transparency of government information and adequately inform Parliament and the community about FOI.
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