Sections 28 to 38A of the Freedom of Information Act set out the various classes of exempt documents that need not be released.
The principal classes of importance to the University follow.
(a) Internal working documents
Documents which disclose:
- opinions, advice or recommendations prepared by staff of the University; or
- consultations between staff
made for the purposes of the University are Internal working documents.
Internal working documents are exempt where disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.
Note that this exemption does not apply to documents which contain only factual material or which are more than 10 years old. Also the exemption does not apply to the record of the final decision given in the exercise of an adjudicative function and any reason which explains that decision.
(b) Legal professional privilege
Documents which would be protected from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege are exempt. Legal professional privilege applies to communications between a solicitor or barrister and a client with a view to legal proceedings, including such communications between one of the University’s solicitors and University staff.
(c) Documents affecting personal privacy
Unless the person whose privacy is affected makes the request, a document whose disclosure would involve the unreasonable disclosure of information relating to the personal affairs of any person is exempt.
Note that particular types of matters, for example equal opportunity, are not, in itself, exempt. Each document must be considered individually.
(d) Documents relating to trade secrets
A document which relates to trade or commercial secrets or which might expose a particular financial undertaking to disadvantage is exempt.
(e) Documents containing material obtained in confidence
Documents obtained in confidence, and which would be likely to impair the ability of the University to obtain similar documents in the future are exempt. An example of such a document is an employment reference.
(f) Where disclosure is contrary to the public interest
Documents are exempt where their premature disclosure would be against the public interest because it would:
- be reasonably likely to have a substantial adverse effect on the economy of Victoria; or
- disclose instructions, procedures or criteria applied by the University in financial, commercial or labour negotiations.
(g) Where an application relates to records which are not records about the applicant, then documents created before 5 July 1978 need not be released.
(h) The definition of document does not include library material maintained for reference purposes.
Employment contracts may be exempt. A series of past cases suggested that employment contracts were not exempt under section 33. These cases suggested that where personal information was present it should be deleted or blacked-out. (Personal information did not include the rate of remuneration.) Recently the Administrative Appeal Tribunal recognised that the public had an interest in knowing the amounts paid to public servants and those who provide services for the State.
However, a more recent decision appeared to modify this view. It held that it would be unreasonable to release the employment files of two officers of the Department of Health who were not senior executives and there was no evidence that a knowledge of their salaries would be in the public interest. This would suggest that the less senior the employee the more likely it is that the University could successfully claim an exemption in regard to the employment contract of the employee. This analysis has not yet been tested in the courts.