On Wednesday 11 September 2019, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Professional Standards (Standards) were published in a special edition of the Government Gazette. The Standards will commence on Monday 2 December 2019.
They differ in parts from the draft Standards published by OVIC for consultation earlier in the year.
There are 33 standards based on 10 themes. Each theme includes:
- a statement – describing the general principles and sections of the Act on which the Standards are based;
- the Standards – setting out the obligations of an agency and principal officer; and
- notes – providing further information to assist interpretation when necessary.
The Standards apply to every Victorian agency subject to the Act. This includes government departments, statutory authorities, public hospitals, councils, TAFEs and universities.
Agency principal officers, and any agency officer concerned in the operation of the Act, must comply with the Standards. In fact, it is the responsibility of agency principal officers to ensure their officers comply with the Standards (see s 6W).
Non-compliance with the Standards may result in the Information Commissioner:
- receiving and dealing with a complaint under section 61A(1)(a) or 61A(1)(ab) of the Act; or
- conducting an own motion investigation under section 61O(1) of the Act.
The Standards prescribe the minimum standards for how agencies administer the Act. For example, two important matters to be aware of are that the Standards specify both timeframes in which to properly administer the Act (Standards 2.4, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, and 5.2), and also record keeping requirements (Standards 5.3, 6.1, 7.2 and 7.3).
Preparing for implementation
Leading up to the implementation of the Standards, it is a timely opportunity for agencies to review their current FOI processes and resources.