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Friday, November 30, 2007

Further information on Victorian FOI amendments

The Victorian Freedom of Information Amendment Bill and the Second Reading Speech of the Attorney General still don't provide the detail of what the government proposes in terms of proactive disclosure of government information on the web. The Bill (Clause 4) would require the Attorney General to issue standards about information to be published, so we will have to wait and see what is required. It hardly sounds like a breakthrough however when the Explanatory Memorandum says that examples of the kind of information that a standard may require an agency to publish include a description of its structure and functions, the services it provides, when it's open for business and what legislation is relevant to its operations.

Let's hope the Attorney General in developing the standards is a bit more far sighted and pushes the envelope further than whoever dreamed up these unremarkable examples.

Another aspect of the amendments is that the FOI Act exemption relating to personal privacy will see the term 'information concerning personal affairs' replaced with 'personal information', the same term used in privacy legislation.

I'm all for consistency of this kind but one potential problem is that the definition of personal information is broad enough to cover any information about a public servant, minister or other public office holder. It should be made clear that information about the conduct of public functions isn't personal information for FOI purposes.

Victoria isn't following the example of Western Australia where the FOI Act (schedule 1 clause 3) exempts personal information subject to a number of exceptions including where disclosure would reveal information about an officer of an agency and things done in the course of performing official functions.

Another amendment (clause 20) would enable an agency or a minister to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order declaring a person to be a vexatious applicant. The Attorney General's consent to the application is required. The Tribunal will have power to declare someone vexatious where satisfied that over a period of time the person has made repeated FOI requests or applications which abuse the rights of access. Where an order is issued conditions can be imposed on the making of further FOI applications.

Thanks to a Victorian reader for the links.

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