NEARLY half of all requests made to the City of Ballarat under Freedom of Information legislation were denied or not completed last financial year.
Released this week, council’s 2011-12 annual report showed that only 54 per cent of FOI applicants received full or partial access to information, with more than 20 per cent of requests not finalised.
The council received 28 FOI requests, all but one of which were categorised as non-personal.
Four applications were denied in full and one was withdrawn.
City of Ballarat officers released information at a lower rate than nearby municipalities, with the City of Greater Geelong meeting 73 per cent of requests and the City of Greater Bendigo meeting 70 per cent. Hepburn Shire received no FOI requests in the same period while Golden Plains Shire received five applications, of which four were granted in full and one had no documents.
Included in the Ballarat tally are a number of requests from The Courier on topics including costings for Lake Wendouree works and the closure of the Delacombe Community House.
Last month, the City of Ballarat gave partial access to a request for information on contractors engaged by council.
Governance and information services manger Annie De Jong provided The Courier with a 79-page list of contractors to council, but ruled that providing some requested information would represent an unreasonable diversion of council resources and could disclose personal details.
Victorian law allows councils and other agencies 45 days to respond to FOI requests.
“No internal reviews (into FOI) were conducted,” the annual report says. “No appeals to VCAT were received and one outstanding from the previous year was settled prior to hearing.”
Municipal Association of Victoria chief executive Rob Spence said Victoria’s FOI legislation mandated what information councils were required to release.
“The fact that councils are disclosing this information is very positive from a reporting viewpoint,” he said. “Generally councils are quite open in the provision of information but there are things that cannot be released for reasons such as commercial in confidence.”
Mr Spence said councils who refused large amounts of information were likely to face Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeals.
Ballarat Residents and Ratepayers Association president Elisa Backer said she believed many residents would not take FOI actions, expecting documents would not be released.
“Often people put in FOI requests to local government as a last resort or out of frustration and the fact that this process is made difficult is disappointing,” she said. “I don’t think anyone would be surprised that getting information out of the City of Ballarat is difficult.”