Victoria Should Consider Proactive Disclosure to Unclog FOI System


Victoria should consider proactive disclosure to unclog its increasingly congested FOI system, according to the Australia Institute’s submission to the inquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Victorian agencies and Ministers receive more FOI requests than any other Australian jurisdiction and Victoria’s backlog has grown from 3,370 requests in 2016–17 to 6,649 requests in 2022–23. Today, fewer FOI requests are being processed on time, with the portion of requests processed more than 45 days outside of the allowed timeframe growing from just 3% in 2017–18 to 13% in 2022–23.

Key recommendations from the Australia Institute’s submission:

  • Review FOI requests to determine why the Victorian Government receives so many requests per capita, and if there are distinctive trends in Victorian requests not seen in other jurisdictions.
  • Review FOI decisions to see which information should be proactively disclosed. This could include, but not be limited to, the information proactively disclosed in New South Wales and Queensland
  • Ensure adequate resourcing for agencies and Ministers to safeguard the quick and fair processing of FOI requests.
  • Work with other Australian jurisdictions to disclose more detailed and consistent data on FOI systems to enable useful analysis within and between jurisdictions.

“Victoria grants access to information more often than other jurisdictions, which is admirable, but the state’s FOI system is struggling to keep pace with demand”, said Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“Freedom of information requests are increasingly delayed and the backlog is growing, prompting complaints.

“Opening up records proactively could save taxpayer money and reduce the volume of FOI requests. The Victorian Government could start by looking at what information is already proactively disclosed in New South Wales and Queensland, and following suit.

“An investigation is needed to figure out why Victoria receives so many FOI requests compared to other jurisdictions.

“Adequate funding for agencies and Ministers must be maintained to safeguard the quick and fair processing of FOI requests.”

Key points from other submissions:

The inquiry has attracted 66 submissions so far, including from government agencies, integrity groups, community organisations, academics and members of the public. Many of the submissions overlap with the arguments in the Australia Institute’s submission.

  • The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner identifies the present legislative framework as a “first generation” model no longer fit for purpose, recommending a “push” model for access and using technology to increase disclosure
  • The Centre for Public Integrity describes the FOI Act’s objectives as commendable, but argues that processing times consistently fail to meet the statutory standard and a substantial reliance on exemptions shows no sign of easing
  • The Right To Know Coalition of news media organisations argue for major modernisation and reform of FOI laws, and say that the FOI regime encourages perverse outcomes: ignoring time limits and the correct application of exemptions; nurtures secrecy; discourages use of the FOI regime; encourages parties to abandon FOI requests and undermines the public’s right to know
  • The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) describes the particular circumstances of FOI requests that it receives, and statutory exclusions from FOI law that relate to some IBAC documents, explaining that for legal and operational reasons IBAC cannot report publicly on some activities
  • The ACT Ombudsman and Office of the Information Commissioner Queensland explain the differences between their respective FOI schemes and Victoria’s, including that the ACT FOI Act and RTI Act (Qld) require information to be published proactively wherever possible/follow a “push” model. OIC Queensland also mentions that the state’s Cabinet documents will be proactively published under legislative changes currently underway
  • Academics John Lidberg, Moira Paterson and Erin Bradshaw describe the results of their study of the culture and practice of administering FOI Acts in Victoria, SA and WA – with a total of 257 interviewees and 377 survey completions. They find the “pull” model is ineffective but “push” systems are only as effective as the discoverability of the information released

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