How are FOI applications handled by the University?
The Victorian Freedom of Information Act (1982) applies to the University as a ‘prescribed authority’. (A prescribed authority includes a body corporate established for a public purpose by the provisions of an Act.) This Act places various obligations on the University.
All FOI applications should be sent to the University FOI Officer who is authorised to make decisions about access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The officer has 45 days from the date they receive a valid request to tell you their decision.
Departments then send the FOI Officer a copy of the relevant documents in their possession. The documents should be complete and unabridged. It may be that the document is exempt from release but the FOI Officer cannot make this decision before having reviewed them.
The FOI Officer then advises the applicant that the document is available for inspection. Where the University claims the document is exempt the FOI Officer will inform the applicant of the section of the Act under which the exception is claimed.
Can material be deleted from a document before release?
Section 25 provides that where it is practicable to make an exempt document non-exempt by the removal of material then that material shall be deleted and the document released.
How should access be given?
Access is normally enabled by providing a reasonable opportunity to inspect the document, or a transcript of shorthand or codified documents.
What time limits apply?
The University must respond to the request as soon as practicable. The FOI Officer has 45 days from the date he/she receives a valid request to inform of his/her decision. Please note that the 45 day period start when the application is received by the FOI Officer. Should the Officer not respond within 45 day period, the applicant will have an automatic right of appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
What about voluminous requests?
If the University believes that the processing of the request would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the University away from its operations then it may refuse to process the request. However, in making this decision the University must not have regard to the actual or perceived reasons for the request. Before refusing a request on these grounds the FOI Officer must offer to assist the applicant to modify the application so that it can be processed.
Do repeat requests have to be processed?
Section 24A provides that if a person makes a request for the same documents on a second or subsequent occasion, after the first request was refused and the decision to refuse was confirmed by VCAT, then the University may refuse repeat requests.
Can an applicant appeal?
The applicant can request a review by the FOI Commissioner. Details on how to submit the request to the FOI Commissioner can be found at www.foicomissioner.vic.gov.au. The request for the review by the FOI Commissioner must be made within twenty-eight days of the decision by RMIT’s FOI Officer.
The applicant can appeal to VCAT where:
- the FOI Commissioner’s review is decided against them, or
- the FOI Commissioner has not completed their review within the time limits.
Can a person ask to have his or her records altered?
Section 39 provides that where document relating to the personal affairs of a person is released that person is entitled to request a correction where the information is inaccurate, incomplete, or out of date.
Does the Act apply to the subsidiary companies of the University?
This question has not been judicially decided. However, the guidelines published by the Law Department of Victoria state that incorporated bodies such as these are not subject to the Act.