Search This Blog

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sunset and sunrise for Victorian FOI regulation.

That report in The Age earlier in the week about community health centres to be excluded from the Victorian Freedom of Information Act was based on the proposed rewrite of the Freedom of Information Regulation 1998 which sunsets in April 2009. (Thanks to a Queensland reader for the lead!!!)

The draft regulation lists organisations prescribed as agencies for the purposes of the Act and office holders excluded from the operation of the Act.The proposed new regulation and an accompanying 71 page Regulatory Impact Statement setting out the reasoning, costs and benefits of what is proposed is
here. For comparative purposes the current regulation is here. If you are concerned about any of this you need to get moving-submissions close 18 March.

The Age report about community health centers was correct - the reason given on page 16 of the RIS is:
"They will instead be subject to a new framework comprising a voluntary registration
scheme and performance standards. Centres which register will be required to be companies limited by guarantee. These changes are the result of the Health Services Amendment Act 2008, which was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 4 December 2008."
I can't see anything to support The Age claim that other organisations that rely on government funding are also to be relieved of FOI obligations.

All our Freedom of Information acts include a power to declare certain bodies as agencies for the purposes of the act, but the detail and specificity in the Victorian regulation leaves most other jurisdictions record looking pretty thin. According to a comparative table (Attachment 2 to the RIS) Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have never used the power to prescribe any bodies.

There are some interesting gems buried away in the RIS, including Table 5- the criteria used to analyse the costs and benefits of prescribing a body as an agency; and some worked examples on the average cost of handling FOI applications in Victoria ( pages19-23): $544 for a straightforward request involving few documents and $5341 for a complex one. And if a matter ends up in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal add $15000-$60000 to the cost to the taxpayer.

In my view, makes the case for the savings to be had from more pro-active disclosure, for better use of technology in processing applications and shifting from documents to digital information, and for good judgment that ensures agencies only end up and hang in to the end in the Tribunal where essential public interests are at stake.

No comments:

Post a Comment