The report notes that the Committee - constituted under Section 6A of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 (Vic) and with powers under the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic) - has the following functions —
a. to monitor and review the performance of the functions and exercise of the powers of the Information Commissioner; and
b. to consider and investigate complaints concerning the Information Commissioner and the operation of the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner; and
c. to report to both Houses of Parliament on any matter relating to— i. the performance of the functions and the exercise of the powers of the Information Commissioner; and ii. any complaint concerning the Information Commissioner and the operation of the Offce of the Victorian Information Commissioner— that requires the attention of Parliament; and
d. to examine the annual report of the Information Commissioner and any other reports by the Commissioner and report to Parliament on any matters it thinks t concerning those reports; and
e. to inquire into matters concerning freedom of information referred to it by the Parliament and to report to Parliament on those matters;
f. to monitor and review the performance of the duties and functions of the Victorian Inspectorate in respect of Ombudsman officers or the Judicial Commission; and
g. to report to both Houses of the Parliament on any matter connected with the performance of the duties and functions of the Victorian Inspectorate in respect of Ombudsman officers or the Judicial Commission that require the attention of the Parliament; and
h. to examine any reports made by the Victorian Inspectorate in respect of Ombudsman officers or the Judicial Commission; and
i. the functions conferred on the Committee by the Ombudsman Act 1973; and
j. if so required or permitted under this Act, to inquire into, consider and report to Parliament on the operation of the Judicial Commission of Victoria Act 2016.It is also to
a. to monitor and review the performance of the duties and functions of the Ombudsman;
b. to report to both Houses of the Parliament on any matter connected with the performance of the duties and functions of the Ombudsman that requires the attention of the Parliament;
c. to examine any reports by the Ombudsman that are laid before a House of the Parliament.The Chair comments that
even as late as 7 February 2018, the Government unexpectedly introduced legislation into the Parliament to merge, at a later date, the Independent broad‐Based Anti‐corruption Commission Committee and this Committee into a newly expanded Integrity and Oversight Committee. Significant changes to the FOI framework also came into effect in September 2017, with the functions of the FOI Commissioner and the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection merging to form the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC). Mr Sven Bluemmel was appointed the inaugural Information Commissioner. In addition, Mr Eamonn Moran PSM QC was appointed to the role of Victorian Inspector from January 2018, replacing the inaugural Inspector Mr Robin Brett QC at the end of his ve‐year term. ....
In terms of performance during 2016‐17, the FOI Commissioner reported that the Office:
• finalised the highest number of review decisions (456) and resolved the highest number of complaints (529) to date
• responded to 8090 enquiries by phone and email
• processed 90 per cent of FOI applications within the statutory timeframe of 45 days
• received noti cation from agencies that full access was granted to applicants in 65.6 per cent of cases
• noted FOI appeals to VCAT increased from 72 in 2015–16 to 91 in 2016–17
• increased education and training activities to 42 in 2016–17, up from 27 in 2015‐16.
In 2016–17, the FOI Commissioner exceeded the quantity target of 550 completed reviews and complaints, with 985 reviews and complaints completed. However, as with previous years, there was an increase in the number of FOI review decisions carried over, with a total of 338 review decisions outstanding.
Of the four key sectors in which FOI decisions are made, involving health, government, emergency and statutory authorities, the highest proportion of applications denied in full was in the government sector (13.69 per cent), with part access granted in 66.86 per cent of cases. Encouragingly, the health sector continues to have the highest proportion of applications granted in full (91.71 per cent).
This reinforces the Committee’s recommendations from earlier reports that information that is frequently requested and routinely granted under the FOI Act should be released without the need for applicants to make a FOI request. The Ombudsman also completed a substantial amount of work in 2016‐17, with volumes slightly up on the previous year.
• receiving 40,642 contacts to the Ombudsman’s office, 18,149 of which were redirected through the website or phone service to a more appropriate authority
• completing 4614 formal enquiries, 25 of which were own motion
• completing 29 formal investigations, 2 of which were own motion
• delivering 39 presentations to students, community groups and state and local government organisations
• tabling 10 reports in Parliament and contributing to reviews and inquiries.
With the assent of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner) Act 2017, the Victorian Inspectorate attained additional oversight functions in relation to the OVIC and the Judicial Commission of Victoria, which commenced operations on 1 July 2017. The Committee recognises the importance to the public of the role of the Victorian Inspectorate, especially its work determining whether a complainant was a orded due process and procedural fairness and that, following a decision of the Inspectorate, guidance is provided on all available options.The Committee makes five recommendations-
1: That the Government amend the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to allow complaints to be submitted other than in writing.
2: That the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner provides data in its annual reports on the timeframes of complaint resolution.
3: That the Government amend the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to provide the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner with the power to compel compliance by agencies in relation to review decisions..
4: That the Government reviews the appropriateness of the Victorian Ombudsman’s target measure of 95 per cent of complaints resolved within 30 days.
5: That the Government clarify the monitoring and oversight of the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner in relation to the Accountability and Oversight Committee and the Victorian Inspectorate’s similar responsibilities.