When free information is not free.In pursuit of a cause or action one typically requires information. Information is key to our understanding. Understanding oneself, others, the immediate world in which we immerse ourselves. Without information we can know that something exists, but not why. Without knowing why we are helpless in effecting change. Life is like this in many ways. The actions of those we encounter are generally based on information. If we are not privy to the relevant information, then causation is unknown, and we are left with baseless reactions as our only means of effecting change.
Now to the matter at hand: Some time back I attempted to change a decision made by the local council. To be successful in this endeavor my proposition had to be logical and substantiated by fact. I was going well until encountering a hurdle on the second point, substantiated by fact. I figured the council archives would hold the information I needed. So, I approached the council to supply me with the necessary information. Being a member of a family residing in their own home, within the same local government area as the council to whom I was to submit my FoI request, I figured this would be a no-brainer. But alas, no! This is where the “Freedom of Information” Act A.K.A. “FOI” comes in.
The FOI Act provides the public (me in this case) with certain rights. The rights to request and be granted access to documents about the operation of council, government departments, and documents in the possession of government Ministers or agencies, and by law the holders of the information must undertake to satisfy the request. At least as far as is possible?But, as it turns out, Freedom of Information does not equate to the free provision of information. Only that an applicant is free to request it. Under the Act, the provider of information can charge the applicant (in this case me) for the free information. Hardly free is it? Here are two examples.Port Phillip Council charges applicants a fee of:$30.10 to process a request.Casey charges applicants’ fees of:$22.50 per hour (or part of an hour)PLUSSupervised viewing of documents fee: $5.60 per 15 minutes (if applicable)PLUSPhotocopying: 20 cents per black and white A4 pageHere’s the thing, could council be seen here to be fiscally Double Dipping?Surely, if you live and pay rates in the area subject to your FOI request, the council should not charge you FOI fees. After all, local ratepayers already finance council services through the rates they pay. The term fiscal double-dipping is the best way to describe this.FOI Was Not Named “A tax on Information”.To this author, it seems that FOI legislation was initially named “Freedom Of Information” for a reason. The act was not named “A tax on Information” or “Information for those who can afford it”. In Summary.The restriction of information to those who can pay only serves to obfuscate issues raised by the public. The unfettered, free provision of information is of benefit to all. Perhaps councils may read this article and reconsider their position by, at minimum, proving FOI services at no charge to local ratepayers.Further FOI Act reading.https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-information/the-foi-acthttps://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2019L00348Port Phillip FOI Fees: https://www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/about-the-council/governance-performance-and-advocacy/freedom-of-informationCasey FOI Fees: https://www.casey.vic.gov.au/make-freedom-of-information-request