An applicant is entitled to access a document unless it is an exempt document. An agency is obliged to release a document with exempt material deleted if an applicant indicates they are willing to accept an edited copy of the document. While a document may be released with exempt material deleted, an agency may choose to deny the document in full if an edited version of the document would be meaningless, misleading or unintelligible. More than one exemption may apply to a single document.
A summary of these exemption is below.
A document may be exempt if it is –
- the official record of any deliberation or decision by Cabinet;
- a document prepared by a Minister or on his or her behalf by an agency for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet;
- a document prepared for the purpose of briefing a Minister in relation to issues to be considered by Cabinet;
- a document the disclosure of which would involve the disclosure of any deliberation or decision of Cabinet, other than a document by which a decision of Cabinet was officially published.
The Federal government, Territories and other States have constant lines of communication with Victorian government Ministers and agencies. Documents containing communications can be requested through FOI, however these documents may be exempt if disclosure would be contrary to the public interest and release of documents would prejudice relations between Victoria and the Commonwealth, Territories or other States, or would divulge matter communicated in confidence.
In order to protect the nation, some documents are created and circulated in secret due to their sensitive nature. These documents are exempt from FOI if their release would or could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security of the Commonwealth or any State or Territory, the defence of the Commonwealth or the international relations of the Commonwealth.
Documents held by Court Services Victoria relating to the exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial functions of a court or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal are exempt.
Ministers and public service officers provide opinions, advice, recommendations, conduct consultation and deliberate. A document may be exempt if its release would disclose matter in the nature of opinion, advice, or recommendation, prepared by an officer or Minister and release of the document would be contrary to the public interest.
A document may be exempt if its disclosure would:
- prejudice the investigation of a breach of the law or prejudice the enforcement of the law;
- prejudice the fair trial of a person, or the impartial adjudication of a particular case;
- disclose, or enable a person to ascertain, the identity of a confidential source of information in relation to the enforcement or administration of the law;
- disclose methods or procedures for preventing, detecting, investigating, or dealing with matters arising out of breaches or invasions of the law; or
- endanger the lives or physical safety of persons engaged in the enforcement of the law, or persons who have provided confidential information in relation to the enforcement or administration of the law.
Any document which is subject to legal professional privilege or client legal privilege is exempt under the FOI Act.
Any document which, if released, would unreasonably disclose information about a person (including a deceased person), is exempt from FOI. This includes any information that identifies a person or discloses their address or location.
Documents held by Ministers or agencies that are acquired from a business or company are exempt under the FOI Act if the document relates to trade secrets or other matters of a business, commercial or financial nature and disclosure of the information would be likely to expose the undertaking unreasonably to disadvantage.
A document is exempt if it contains information that has been communicated in confidence by a person or entity to a government agency and the release of the information would be contrary to the public interest.
A document may be exempt on the grounds that it would be contrary to the public interest if the release of the document would have a negative impact on the economy of Victoria or local council or would negatively impact the running of an agency.
A document is exempt if another piece of legislation prohibits the release of information contained within the document.
A document may be exempt if it is an official record of any deliberation or decision of a closed council meeting.