ACCOUNTABILITY AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE Victorian oversight agencies 2016–17

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria) (09:36:52) — I move:

That the Council take note of the report.

In doing so, I would just like to make some remarks in relation to the report from the Accountability and Oversight Committee. This report examines the three agencies that the committee has oversight responsibility for: the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, the Victorian Ombudsman and the Victorian Inspectorate (VI). The report recommends greater powers for the Victorian information commissioner to require compliance by government agencies on freedom of information requests and makes five recommendations as part of the committee’s legislative reporting requirement of reviewing the annual reports for the year 2016–17.

The recommendations to the Victorian government are that the Victorian government reviews the current requirement that complaints submitted to the freedom of information commissioner must be made in writing; that the information commissioner provides data in its annual reports on the time frames of complaint resolution; that the Freedom of Information Act 1982 be amended to provide the information commissioner with the power to compel compliance by agencies in relation to review decisions; that the Victorian government reviews the appropriateness of the Victorian Ombudsman’s target measure of 95 per cent of complaints being resolved within 30 days; and that the Victorian government clarifies 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.

The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner began operating in September 2017 with Sven Bluemmel appointed the inaugural information commissioner in the same month. At the Victorian Inspectorate Eamonn Moran was appointed to the role of Inspector from January 2018, replacing the inaugural Inspector, Robin Brett, at the end of his five‑year term. I would like to take the opportunity to welcome Mr Bluemmel and Mr Moran to their respective roles and also to thank Mr Brett for his work in the role as the VI and for the assistance that he provided to the committee.

In terms of performance in 2016–17, the Ombudsman received 40 642 contacts to the office, 18 149 of which were redirected through the website or phone service to a more appropriate authority; completed 4614 formal inquiries, 25 of which were own motion; completed 29 formal investigations, two of which were own motion; delivered 39 presentations to students, community groups and state and local government organisations; tabled 10 reports in Parliament; and contributed to parliamentary and government reviews and inquiries.

For the then FOI commissioner, the office’s achievements in 2016–17 were: finalised the highest number of review decisions, totalling 456, and resolved the highest number of complaints to date, and that was 529; responded to 8090 inquiries by phone and email; processed 90 per cent of FOI applications within the statutory time frame of 45 days; received notification 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; exceeded the quantity target of 550 completed reviews and complaints — 985 reviews and complaints were completed; recorded an increase in the number of FOI review decisions carried over from the previous year, with a total of 338 review decisions remaining outstanding; reported that the highest proportion of applications denied in full was in the government sector at 13.69 per cent, with part access granted in 66.86 per cent of cases; and noted that the health sector continues to have the highest proportion of applications granted in full at 91.71 per cent.

The committee members are Mr Neil Angus, the member for Forest Hill in the Assembly, who is the chair; me; Mr Luke O’Sullivan; Mr Michael Gidley, the member for Mount Waverley in the Assembly; Mr James Purcell; and Mr Nick Staikos, the member for Bentleigh in the Assembly, until February 2018. Mr Staikos has now been replaced by Mr Wade Noonan, the member for Williamstown in the Assembly. Ms Marsha Thomson, the member for Footscray in the Assembly, is also a committee member.

The committee secretariat provided great support to our committee, particularly the executive officer, Sean Coley, the research officer, Caitlin Grover, and the administrative officer, Sarah Catherall. I would like to thank them very much for their assistance to the committee in its ongoing work.

Motion agreed to.