This Policy describes the policy and procedure to be followed when a request for information is received under the Victorian Freedom of Information Act 1982 (The “Act”). The Policy will ensure that requests are managed in accordance with the requirements set out in the Act.  

VicHealth is a prescribed authority (or "agency") under the Act. The Act extends to the community the right to access information from prescribed authorities. The "information" sought by an applicant under the Act must be in document form and must be in the possession of the agency.

Scope 

This policy applies to all staff employed by VicHealth.  

Policy owner 

Executive Manager, Corporate Services

Effective From 3 December 2015


Policy Statement

Requests for documents

Applicants must lodge a request in writing to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Officer, accompanied by the application fee as set by government. 

All correspondence and communications with applicants must be managed by the Freedom of Information Officer or delegate.

The Act requires applicants to state their requests clearly enough for relevant documents to be identified and requires the organisation to assist the applicant to do this. Work begins on a request only when it is sufficiently specific and clear. 

Once the formal request is made, the FOI Officer must conduct a thorough search, with the process of the search, and the outcomes, recorded.  
If a request is made for documents but the Act is not mentioned by the applicant, the FOI Officer will decide if the request is routine. The request need not be referred to the FOI Officer if the document is normally available for public scrutiny or is otherwise available to specified individuals under organisation’s policy or the law. 

A clearly written decision letter within 45 days of the date of receipt of the request, and payment of the application fee.

 

Access to documents

Applicants have the right to request any document which is in the possession of VicHealth, but access is subject to any possible exemptions permitted by the Act.

A person does not have the right to obtain under the Act publications which are sold by the organisation, documents which are held by the Public Record Office of Victoria or documents that are readily available to the public.

The Act allows for requested documents to be withheld where they are considered to be exempt from release. VicHealth protects its legitimate management, research and commercial interests and the interests, including privacy of individuals, by using the exemptions provided for under the Act, as set out below. Note that any third parties mentioned in the documents should be notified as soon as possible, as they have the right to appeal to VCAT on any decisions made.

 In some cases, even when an exemption provided by the Act appears both applicable and justifiable, a document may be released by the FOI Officer because adverse consequences of release to the organisations functions and legitimate interests are considered to be minimal. The Act encourages agencies to consider releasing documents in addition to those set out in the Act.

The FOI Officer will therefore consider, subject to the provisions of the Act, any document regarded as possibly exempt and decide whether it should be released, released with exempt details deleted, or withheld. 

At times a document may not exist, or may not be able to found, despite a thorough search, this should be communicated to the applicant in the decision letter.

The FOI Officer is required to notify any third party affected by access.

 

Exempt documents

A document or part of a document can be regarded as exempt if (among other things):
  • it is an internal "deliberative process" document and its release would not appear to be in the public interest (exempt under Section 30 of the Act); 
  • it would be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege (exempt under Section 32 of the Act); 
  • it concerns the personal affairs and personal information of a person or persons who have not initiated the request (exempt under Section 33 of the Act); 
  • it is information communicated in confidence by or to VicHealth  (exempt under Section 35 of the Act); 
  • it is a referee's report (a particular instance of the preceding category); 
  • its release would disadvantage VicHealth or another organisation commercially (exempt under Section 34 of the Act); or 
  • it is seen to be covered by one or more of the other exemptions provided.


Decision letter

If the FOI Officer decides not to release a document or part of a document, or decide that access should be deferred (section 24) or that no such document exists, the applicant must be sent a written notice that sets out findings on material facts, the reasons for the decision, the name and designation of the FOI Officer and details of the applicant’s review rights (section 27). 

If an exemption is claimed under section 30 (internal working documents), the letter must include the factors considered in deciding that release would be contrary to the public interest. 

The applicant should be informed who to contact if they have any queries about the decision and how to make a complaint or request a review with the FOI Commissioner. 


FOI Commissioner - FOI Reviews and Complaints

When an applicant is dissatisfied with the FOI Officer’s decision not to release all or part of a requested document, under the Act the applicant has 28 days from receipt of the written notice to lodge a request for a review of the decision. This review is conducted by the FOI Commissioner. 

If access is denied because the document does not exist or cannot be found after a thorough and diligent search, or if the FOI request has been delayed the applicant has the right to complain to the FOI Commissioner. A complaint must be made within 60 days after the action or conduct they wish to complain about occurred.


Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Decisions of the FOI Commissioner can be appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Generally, an application must be made within 60 days from the date of the notice of decision of the Commissioner.

If a disclosed document includes a third party’s personal or business information, the third party has 60 days from the date of the decision letter to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review of the decision. 


Reporting

The FOI Officer must retain a register of all Freedom of Information applicants. Details of Freedom of Information applications are required to be:

  • reported to the Department of Justice and Regulation
  • disclosed in VicHealth’s Annual Report.


Responsibilities

Freedom of Information (FOI) Officer

The VicHealth employee delegated to process FOI requests received, complete reporting, and provide advice on FOI issues. The Department of Justice and Regulation has set FOI standards which should be followed when handling any requests received. 

Provides advice and training, reviews FOI applications where requested, and managers complaints.

This Policy will be reviewed periodically to ensure compliance with regulatory and statutory and legislative requirements.


Principal Officer (CEO)

Principal officers of agencies have several obligations to ensure that FOI principles are upheld. These principles include:  
  • The legally enforceable right of individuals to access government information, which should be extended as far as possible  
  • Exemptions should be limited and specific, and only claimed to protect essential public and private interests 
  • Discretions under the FOI Act should be exercised so as to promote the disclosure of information 
  • The public should have ready access to agency rules, policies and procedures that affect them.


All VicHealth staff

Cooperate with the FOI Officer and provide relevant documents or advice promptly upon request.


Definitions

Freedom of Information Officer

Information Coordinator, Executive Manager, Corporate Services


Principal Officer

Chief Executive Officer


Document

Under the Act, a document includes, in addition to a document in writing, items such as plans, photographs, audio recordings, databases etc.


Contacts

  • Information Coordinator
  • Executive Manager, Corporate Services


Related Documentation

Freedom of Information Act, 1982
Freedom of Information Professional Standards
FOI Access Process
Writing FOI Access Decisions
Top tips for senior managers – Seven ways you can support the FOI principles
Freedom of Information Commissioner FAQs