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Monday, September 01, 2014

Yes Minister playbook still handy for FOI decision makers in Victoria

One example doesn't prove that Freedom of Information in Victoria is in bad shape, but add this knock back for ambulance response times to the indicative evidence pile:
In refusing the FoI request, Ms Sorrell said releasing local area response times could harm AV’s business by frightening off subscribers in areas where response times were longest, and even encouraging people to drive to hospital. She also claimed the release of local response times might “unduly excite public controversy”, “cause confusion” and disadvantage AV in its long running pay-and conditions dispute with paramedics. “There is a very clear public interest in maintaining public confidence in the delivery of ambulance services ... and increasing subscriptions for ambulance services,” she said.
The Herald Sun says Ambulance Victoria has refused to hand the information over to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, forcing court action certain to delay things until after the election in November.

The Hun earlier reported that the Opposition was refused access under FOI to average response times for AV’s 250 branches, losing an appeal to VCAT where "senior member Robert Davis accepted AV is foremost a commercial operation, rather than a public service."

The reporter tells me the Tribunal found branch response times would not help the public know how long an ambulance was likely to take in a particular locality (as ambulances often work outside their branch areas) but said "there is a public interest in members of the public knowing emergency response times in their local area". AV also accepted an Auditor-General's recommendation in 2010 that it publicly report "a breakdown of performance by region/locality".


"Cause confusion"and"unduly excite public controversy" suggest the Yes Minister playbook is still well thumbed in Victoria:
Sir Humphrey: There is a well established Government procedure for suppress… deciding not to publish reports.
Jim Hacker: Really?
Sir Humphrey: You simply discredit them.
Jim Hacker: Good heavens... how?
Sir Humphrey: Stage one, you give your reasons in terms of the public interest. You hint at security considerations – the report could be used to put pressure on goverment and could be misinterpreted.
Jim Hacker: Anything could be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount could be misinterpreted!
Sir Humphrey: Indeed – it could be argued that the Sermon on the Mount, had it been a government report, would almost certainly not have been published. A most irresponsible document. All that stuff about the meek inheriting the earth could do irreparable damage to the defence budget.
Confusion and unnecessary debate have been irrelevant public interest considerations under Federal, Queensland, NSW and Tasmanian laws as a result of the FOI reforms of 2007-2010, but Victoria is yet to go anywhere near comprehensive review and reform of its 1983 legislation.


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