FoI in Australia: Amendment Bill

The Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2007 (Bill) was introduced and had its first Reading Speech on 20 November 2007. The key features of the Bill include the abolition of the application fee, the introduction of new consultation processes and new ‘vexatious applicants’ provisions.

Part II of the FOI Act is to be replaced with a new Part concerning the publication of information by agencies. This requires agencies to publish information for the purposes of the FOI Act in accordance with standards issued by the Attorney-General. The information must be published on the internet (either the agency’s own internet site or another government site).

The Bill abolishes application fees for FOI requests. It acknowledges that requests may be sent by email or over the internet. FOI Online (established by the State Government for the purpose of receiving and providing information in relation to FOI) is also given recognition.

The Bill has not yet had its full Second Reading Speech. It commenced on 22 November 2007 but it did not progress further before Parliament finished sitting for the year. Once the Second Reading Speech is complete, the Bill is read a third time and introduced into the Upper House for debate. It is then passed by Parliament and awaits Royal Assent. It will commence on a day (or days) to be proclaimed, but no later than 1 July 2009.

Disclosure to the world at large

The Supreme Court of Victoria has recently handed down an important judgment on whether disclosure under the FOI Act is disclosure to the ‘world at large’: Marke v Victoria Police [2007] VSC 522. In short, it found that this is not to be assumed and would only be so where the particular facts led to that conclusion (for example, due to the nature of the FOI applicant). So, just because a document has been released to one FOI applicant, it does not mean that it must be released to any subsequent FOI applicant. Further, when considering the application of the ‘personal affairs’ exemption (in section 33), the decision-maker must have regard to (amongst other things) the likelihood that the FOI applicant will disclose the information. So, FOI officers will need to factor this in when considering requests for access to information about another’s personal affairs.

Australia: FOI Decision – Disclosure To The World At Large (Mondaq, 12 February 2008)