FOI in Australia: delaying tactics used by government departments

Victoria's Ombudsman has been encouraged to clamp down on Government agencies that are obstructing freedom of information requests after an investigation found departments, including the Premier's, had caused unnecessary problems.

Opposition parties have accused government departments of using delaying tactics to stop sensitive information being released.

Ombudsman George Brouwer recently completed an investigation into a series of Opposition complaints against the Justice Department, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and Film Victoria. The investigation was based on claims that departments had deliberately blocked the FoI process.

In one case, Film Victoria told Opposition scrutiny-of-government spokesman Richard Dalla-Riva that a request for documents would not be processed until he clarified the term "all documents". In response to another FoI application, the Department of Premier and Cabinet took 86 days to clarify a request because it believed the words "signed contract" were too difficult to interpret.

Mr Dalla-Riva said FoI officers working in departments were deliberately asking for basic words and phrases to be clarified in order to obstruct the FoI process. He said this breached the Government's own guidelines, which state that departments must at least display a "willingness" to disclose information.

"I'm happy to shout the Premier and each of the 10 departments a pocket dictionary so they can understand what the word 'document' means in future," he said.

State watchdog pushed to act on FoI (The Age, 17 October 2005)