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What is freedom of information?
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 provides a legislative framework for access to documents held by Victorian public sector organisations. It is underpinned by the principles of open and accountable government and that people have the right to access information that is held about them.
The right of access
The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to request documents held by:
- state government departments, including EPA
- local councils
- most semi-government agencies and statutory authorities
- public hospitals and community health centres
- universities, TAFE colleges and schools.
The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to:
- access documents about the activities of government agencies
- access documents about your personal affairs
- request that incorrect or misleading information held by an agency about you be amended or removed.
What is a document?
Documents include those held in files or records and may include electronic mail messages in either paper or electronic format.
‘Document’ is broadly defined under the Freedom of Information Act and may include books, maps, plans, drawings, audio-visual media, photographs and documents that could be produced in discrete form by the use of a computer or other equipment (for example material stored in a database or spreadsheet).
Documents exempt under the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act exempts some types of documents from access, including:
- documents containing information of a kind which is already available for public access (for example, publications)
- documents created prior to 5 July 1978 other than documents which relate to the personal affairs of the applicant
- documents affecting the personal privacy of a third party
- internal working documents, including those documents that are a part of the deliberative processes involved in the functions of an agency, a minister or Government
- documents affecting legal proceedings
- documents relating to trade secrets, or other matters of a business, commercial or financial nature
- documents containing material obtained in confidence
- documents where disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.
Making a freedom of information request at EPA
You can make a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act or you can authorise another person (for example a solicitor) to make a request on your behalf.
If you want someone to make a request on your behalf for your personal information, you must give them your written authorisation and this be provided to EPA before your request can be assessed.
Before you make a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act, you should consider whether the documents are available in other ways, including on the EPA website.
If you still want to access documents under the Freedom of Information Act the request must:
- be in writing
- clearly describe the documents you are requesting access to
- include the application fee.
You can make a freedom of information (FOI) request to EPA by writing to:
Environment Protection Authority Victoria
Freedom of Information Officer
GPO Box 4395
Melbourne Victoria 3001
Protecting access to personal information
In line with EPA’s commitment to protecting personal information under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, you must provide evidence of your identity when you request access to documents containing personal information about you.
Evidence of your identity is best provided through the provision of a photocopy of current photo identification (ID). If you are unsure about what ID to provide, contact the EPA FOI officer.
Timelines for requests
EPA has 30 days from the time that it receives your request to notify you of its decision.
EPA may extend the time in which it has to decide your request in certain circumstances. If this is necessary, EPA will write to you.
Sometimes, particularly where requests are complex or necessitate us to contact a third party, delays can occur. EPA will make its best efforts to contact you and inform you of the progress of your request if there are delays.
There are two costs associated with making a freedom of information (FOI) request:
- the application cost
- the access cost.
The application fee is a fixed cost which is non-refundable. The only exception is for people suffering hardship who can ask the agency to waive the application fee.
Access charges relate to the costs incurred in granting access to the documents that you have requested. These costs may or may not apply depending on the nature of your request.
All fees and charges are exempt from GST.
See Fees and penalties for the current value of the fee units referred to below. Fee and penalty units are set by government regulations.
- Search time – 1.5 fee units per hour or part thereof.
- Supervision – 1.5 fee units applied pro rata to each quarter hour or part thereof.
- Photocopying – 20c per black-and-white A4 page.
- Access in a form other than photocopying – the reasonable costs incurred by EPA in providing the copy.
- Listening to or viewing a tape – the reasonable costs incurred by EPA in making arrangements to listen to or view (supervision charges also apply).
- Making a written transcript out of a tape – the reasonable costs incurred by EPA in providing the written transcript.
If you want the fee to be waived, include evidence that payment of the fee would cause you financial hardship. For example, a photocopy of your current health care card. Processing your request cannot begin if any of the required information is not supplied. If you are unsure about what to include with the request, contact the EPA FOI officer.
You can request a review if you believe you have been unfairly denied access to documents. You may seek a review of EPA’s decision with the Information Commissioner by writing within 28 days of receiving your decision letter to:
Victorian Information Commissioner
Freedom of Information Reviews
PO Box 24274
Phone: 1300 842 364
For more information about this process, refer to the Victorian Information Commissioner website.