How are FOI applications handled by RMIT?
The Freedom of Information Amendment (Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner) Act 2017 has brought notable changes to Victoria’s Freedom of Information (FOI) regime for RMIT and applicants. The changes come into effect on 1 September 2017.
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 FOI Officer then advises the applicant in writing of what documents are to be released or that the documents are available for inspection. Where RMIT claims the documents are exempt the FOI Officer will inform the applicant of the reasons and the section of the FOI Act under which the exception is claimed.
What time limits apply?
RMIT must make decisions on FOI requests within 30 calendar days, instead of the previous 45 calendar day period.
With the agreement of an applicant, this time frame can be extended by up to 30 days, with the possibility of additional 30 day extensions, so long as the extension is granted before the relevant period expires. However should the Officer not respond within the 30 day period, the applicant will have an automatic right of appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Decision makers are permitted an extension of up to 15 calendar days for requests that require mandatory consultation with specified third parties under:
- Section 29 Documents containing matter communicated by any other State
- Section 29A Documents affecting national security, defence or international relations
- Section 31 Law enforcement documents
- Section 31A Documents relating to IBAC
- Section 33 Documents affecting personal privacy
- Section 34 Documents relating to trade secrets etc.
- Section 35 Documents containing material obtained in confidence
What are the duties of RMIT in regard to FOI applications?
The FOI Act aims to provide the community with the maximum amount of information at minimum expense.
The basic obligations of RMIT include:
- assisting the applicant to make a request which conforms with the FOI Act;
- locating the documents requested by a ’thorough and diligent search’;
- giving access to documents other than exempt documents;
- notifying the applicant of the decision regarding his/her request as soon as possible;
- informing an applicant who has been refused documents of the Information Commissioner review process; and
- informing the applicant of the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (“VCAT“).
Can material be deleted from a document before release?
Section 25 of the FOI Act 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.
What about voluminous requests?
If RMIT believes that the processing of the request would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of RMIT away from its operations then it may refuse to process the request. Before refusing a request on these grounds the FOI Officer will 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 RMIT may refuse repeat requests.
Documents that may be exempt from release
Under the FOI Act, RMIT may deny access to ‘exempt’ documents. Examples of ‘exempt’ documents include;
- confidential matters considered by RMIT
- law enforcement documents
- some internal working documents
- documents covered by legal professional privilege, such as legal advice
- documents obtained in confidence or containing personal information about other people
- documents containing “Commercial in-confidence” information or trade secrets.
Where a decision is made to deny or defer access, the applicant will be notified in writing of the reasons for the denial and the procedures available to appeal the decision.
Can an applicant appeal?
The applicant can request a review by the Information Commissioner. Details on how to submit the request to the Information Commissioner can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 842 364. The request for the review by the Information Commissioner must be made within 28 days of the decision by RMIT’s FOI Officer.
The applicant can appeal to VCAT where the Information Commissioner’s review is decided against them. Details on how to submit an appeal to VCAT can be made:
- by mail to VCAT 55 King Street, Melbourne 3000;
- via phone on (03) 9628 9755; or
- via email at email@example.com.
Reduced time limit for RMIT to apply for review
While FOI applicants continue to have 60 days to lodge a Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VCAT) review application for an OVIC decision, the time frame for RMIT to lodge a VCAT review application is 14 Days.
Can a person ask to have his or her records altered?
The FOI Act 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.