On 12 April 2013, the Victorian Court of Appeal handed down a ruling on Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that has significant ramifications upon the scope of documents that can be publicly accessed.
The case – the Office of the Premier verses the Herald and Weekly Times – had its origins in the Herald Sun’s investigations into relations between former police commissioner Simon Overland, his deputy Sir Ken Jones and the Government.
The Court’s unanimous decision found that the diary held by a former chief of staff to then Premier Ted Baillieu fell within the definition of “an official document of the Minister” and therefore was subject to FOI disclosure.
Previously governments have taken the position that only documents from Departments to Ministers were subject to FOI requests. This decision however broadens the FOI scheme into new areas – including documents originating from adviser to Minister, and from adviser to adviser – provided they are relevant to their portfolio.
This decision may well impact upon how staff within Ministers’ offices informally communicate between themselves, but undoubtedly it serves as a timely reminder to all external parties engaged in correspondence with Ministers’ offices that all documents – regardless to whom they are addressed – could fall within the realm of FOI disclosure.