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Monday, June 16, 2014

Victoria proposes to improve FOI commissioner model not abolish it

Following a mention here a few weeks ago of the Victorian government's plans, the Freedom of Information and Victorian Inspectorate Acts Amendment Bill 2014 was introduced into Parliament last week. 

The main FOI purpose as outlined in the Explanatory Memorandum is to allow for the appointment of Assistant Freedom of Information Commissioners; to provide greater guidance in relation to time limits and notification requirements by, and to, the Freedom of Information Commissioner; facilitate the effective and informal resolution of reviews and complaints; and ensure that many of the functions of the Freedom of Information Commissioner may be undertaken by, or delegated to, members of staff.

The Attorney General said two assistant commissioners would be appointed with an additional allocation of funds for this purpose.

(The Office of Australian Information Commissioner didn't get anywhere with requests for additional funding to cope with similar high demand for FOI review work. Last year the Office raised with the Hawke Review as efficiency measures some of the matters addressed in the Victorian legislation including allowing for delegation of review and complaint handling functions and powers to remit a matter to an agency or minister for reconsideration. Dr Hawke made some recommendations along these lines. The government however said not a word in response before announcing plans to abolish the OAIC in the name of 'efficiency.' Other options to make the commissioner model work more efficiently and effectively don't appear to have received any consideration.)

This analysis of the provisions by Bruce Arnold captures the essence of the proposed changes. 

That the Commissioner is limited to recommendatory rather than determinative powers in concluding review of an agency decision, to my mind, continues to be a weakness in the scheme. 

Victoria continues to sidestep comprehensive FOI reform.

As Professor Johan Lidberg of Monash University said

“Victorian Freedom of Information is one of the poorest functioning access to information laws in the country,” Mr Lidberg said. “It’s slow, cumbersome and expensive to use.”
You can add very dated to that.The 1983 act shows the finest thinking of the nineteen seventies and eighties.
One of these days.... 


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