What is Freedom of Information (FOI)?
Individuals and Agencies have the right to access information and documents held by Ambulance Victoria (AV) under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (the Act). The Act gives individuals the right to access documents about their personal affairs and the activities of government agencies, including information held by Ministers, State Government departments, local councils, public hospitals, most semi-government agencies and statutory authorities.
What documents in the possession of Ambulance Victoria can be subject to a Freedom of Information request?
In theory all documents held by AV can be subject to an FOI request, whether they are created by AV or supplies to AV by an external agency or individual. It is not only documents in paper form that are accessible. ‘Documents’ covers a broad range of information including emails, videos, tape recordings, maps, photographs, etc.
What constitutes a valid Freedom of Information request?
All FOI request must be in writing and be written with enough clarity to enable the scope of the request to be identified and a search for documents to be undertaken. A fee of $28.90 is also payable unless it is waived in circumstances of hardship (eg. pension card). Access charges may also be payable relating to the costs incurred in granting access to the documents requested, including search time and copying charges.
What are the most common Freedom of Information requests handled by AV?
Common requests include requests by members of the public for their Patient Care Records. AV’s FOI team also process requests for the Coroners Court, Police and Subpoenas.
AV also process what are called “Major FOI requests”. These are commonly requests from Members of Parliament or media outlets relating to AV’s policies and procedures or topical issues relating to the provision of ambulance services to Victorians.
How long does Ambulance Victoria have to process each Freedom of Information request received?
Under the Act, AV is required to process an FOI request within 30 days of receiving a valid request. It is therefore important that staff/departments identified as holding documents relevant to an FOI request forward these documents in a timely manner (generally within 3 days of receiving notification of the request).
Can information be exempt from release?
The Act is pro release but documents can be exempt either in full or in part if one or more of the exemptions in the Act can be applied. The FOI Act outlines general categories of information that are exempt. These include information relating to the personal affairs of third parties, information provided in confidence, information which if released might endanger the lives or physical safety of individuals, cabinet documents, commercial-in-confidence information, internal working documents which if released would be contrary to the public interest, and so on. Departments and staff are encouraged to raise any sensitivities around the release of a document with the FOI team.
What are the rights of a Freedom of Information applicant who is dissatisfied with an FOI decision by AV?
An applicant who is dissatisfied with a decision can appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner. All complaints must be made in writing within 28 days of receiving the initial decision from AV.
Paul Maclean, Lead, Freedom of Information on (03) 9840 3749 or via email email@example.com