The object of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 is to extend as far as possible the right of the community to access information in the possession of the Victorian Government and other statutory bodies. Child Protection holds extensive personal information and other documents that clients of the department may seek access to. The Freedom of Information Act (the FOI Act) provides a framework for clients to access such information.
The FOI Act not only gives people the right to request documents relating to their personal affairs but also provides for people to request documents about any of the activities of a government agency. The FOI Act also gives an individual the right to request amendment of incorrect or misleading information held by an agency about the individual. The intention of the FOI Act is to provide the maximum amount of government information promptly and inexpensively to the public.
A person may be provided with documents through an administrative release process without pursuing a formal FOI application only if all of the following circumstances apply:
- The document consists entirely of information to which the person is entitled that is, the document is one which they have or should have already received through usual administrative processes.
- The document does not contain third party information to which the person may have limited or no entitlement.
- The author of the document, if not child protection, has consented to its release.
- A supervisor has reviewed the document and is satisfied that further review through a formal FOI screening process is not required.
How to make a request to access documents
Applicants may contact the FOI unit directly by phone (03 9096 8449) to have an application pack sent out.
Applicants may write a letter giving the full details of the request. This letter should set out clearly and list the information being asking for. The applicant will also need to include personal details (full name, address and date of birth), the application fee if applicable and proof of identity (driver's licence, passport or health care card).
Applications should be sent to the Freedom of Information Unit, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing or the divisional FOI coordinator.
Definition of document includes:
- file notes
- diary notes
- computer disks and memory sticks
- computer print outs
- films and microfiche
- audio and visual recordings.
All requests must be made in writing, either on the standard FOI request form or by letter, email or fax.
The FOI Act requires that access to certain information may be refused in certain circumstances. This is called exempt information and includes documents which:
- affect the personal affairs of another person
- contain information given in confidence
- concern law enforcement information
- are privileged in legal proceedings
- are internal working documents of the department
- contain information that is prohibited from release under other acts
- are commercially confidential.
Correction of personal information
Clients have the right to apply to have personal information that is held by the department amended if they believe that it is inaccurate, incomplete, out of date or misleading. A request to amend information must be made in writing with details of why the information is considered incorrect.
Can a person request a review of an FOI decision?
If a person is not satisfied with the decision on their FOI application, they have the right to seek a review from the Freedom of Information Commissioner. If they wish to appeal the Commissioner’s decision, they may apply to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). The Freedom of Information Commissioner can hear complaints about an agency’s handling of a request. If the request involves health information, the person may also contact the Health Services Commissioner.
Note: Decision makers under the Freedom of Information Act must be legally authorised by the Secretary - no other staff member is entitled to make FOI decisions or carry out internal reviews.
Practitioners should assist clients who wish to make a FOI request by directing them to the correct process where required and by forwarding a received request to the regional FOI officer without delay.