FOI Commissioner To Be Introduced

FOI Commissioner To Be Introduced

Victoria Minister responsible for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission Andrew McIntosh

Coalition Government Delivers Freedom Of Information Commissioner

Victor P Taffa

Legislation creating Victoria’s first independent Freedom of Information Commissioner will be introduced into Parliament today.

Minister responsible for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission Andrew McIntosh said this was the most significant change to Victoria’s Freedom of Information laws since their introduction almost 30 years ago.

“With this Bill, we are fulfilling one of the Coalition’s key election promises.” Mr. McIntosh said.

“For the first time, Victorians will have access to an independent umpire if they are dissatisfied with the initial result of a Freedom of Information application.”

 

The changes will bring greater oversight, scrutiny and transparency to FoI decisions than ever before.

The Freedom of Information Amendment (Freedom of Information Commissioner) Bill 2011 provides for the appointment of a Freedom of Information Commissioner responsible for reviewing FoI decisions, considering complaints relating to FoI and monitoring professional standards.

The FoI Commissioner will be an independent officer of Parliament, appointed by the Governor in Council, and must report to Parliament annually through a new joint parliamentary committee, the Accountability and Oversight Committee, also established by this Bill.

The FoI Commissioner will assume responsibility for reviews of FoI decisions, substantially replacing the first stage reviews currently conducted internally by agencies. Currently, the Government department or agency that decides whether to release information to an applicant is also responsible for reviewing that decision.

The Bill also empowers the FoI Commissioner to accept and investigate complaints about FoI administration, to monitor FoI standards, and to advise and educate agencies about FoI generally.

“This Bill fulfils an important part of the Coalition Government’s pledge to improve openness and transparency in Victoria.” Mr. McIntosh said.

“After 11 years of Labor secrecy, Victorians will have access to a greatly strengthened Freedom of Information regime.”

Under the legislation, the Commissioner will initially seek to resolve FoI disputes informally through negotiation between the applicant and the relevant agency. The Commissioner will also have the power to request documents and submissions from the agency to assist in the making of a review decision.

Applicants and agencies will retain and be afforded appeal rights to VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal). People or businesses affected by a decision of the FoI Commissioner will also be able to appeal in specified circumstances.

The Bill provides the FoI Commissioner with the power to investigate complaints about FoI, and conciliate between the parties. This includes the power to receive complaints about ministerial offices in relation to FoI delays, deferrals and the release of documents affecting third parties.

In investigating complaints, the FoI Commissioner will have the power to compel the production of relevant documents in certain circumstances, and publicly report on findings or breaches of the FoI Act.

The Ombudsman will retain responsibility for investigating matters which arise under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001.

A new joint parliamentary committee, the Accountability and Oversight Committee, will be created to provide oversight of the FoI Commissioner. The Committee will monitor and review the exercise of the Commissioner’s powers, and will receive complaints about the FoI Commissioner.

The FoI Commissioner will report to the Accountability and Oversight Committee, and to both Houses of Parliament through its Annual Report, taking over responsibility for the Freedom of Information Annual Report currently issued by the responsible minister. The Annual Report will include a report on the performance and exercise of the FoI Commissioner’s powers and functions.

The 2011-12 Budget allocated $7.9 Million over four years to establish the Office of the FoI Commissioner.

An executive search for the inaugural FoI Commissioner is underway to facilitate the making of an appointment as soon as possible once Parliament has considered the Bill.