This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Letters from Combined Team Uruzgan and Joint Task Force 633 leadership to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission'.

DEFENCE FOI 687/22/23 
I refer to the request by Andrew Quilty (the applicant), dated and received on 
26 April 2023 by the Department of Defence (Defence), for access to the following 
documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act):  
…all such response letters from the leadership of both Combined Team Uruzgan 
and Joint Task Force 633 to the AIHRC between 2009 and 2014. 

Between 2009 and 2014, via its office in Tarin Kowt, the Afghan Independent 
Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) made numerous inquiries into incidents 
involving Australian military forces in Uruzgan and neighbouring provinces that it 
claimed resulted in civilian casualties. The inquiries were fielded by ADF legal 
officers based in Tarin Kowt, who then passed them up the chain of command. 

Most AIHRC inquiries received written responses signed by senior leaders from 
either Combined Team Uruzgan or Joint Task Force 633. 

On 16 May 2023, with the applicant’s written agreement Defence extended the period 
for processing the request until 25 June 2023 in accordance with section 15AA 
[extension of time with agreement] of the FOI Act.  
On 26 June 2023, Defence applied to the Information Commissioner for an extension of 
time to process the request, as the current timeframe was insufficient due to the 
complexity and sensitivities contained in the request. On 7 July 2023, the Information 
Commissioner agreed to extend the period for Defence to process the request until 
9 August 2023 under section 15AB [extension of time for complex or voluminous 
requests] of the FOI Act. 
FOI decision maker 
I am the authorised officer pursuant to section 23 of the FOI Act to make a decision on 
this FOI request. 
Documents identified 
I have identified seven (7) documents as falling within the scope of the request.   
The decision in relation to each document is detailed in the schedule of documents.  
Signatures contained within documents that fall within the scope of the FOI request, 
duplicates of documents, and documents sent to or from the applicant are excluded from 
this request. Defence has only considered final versions of documents. 

I have decided to:  
a.  partially release seven (7) documents in accordance with section 22 [access to 
edited copies with exempt or irrelevant matter deleted] of the FOI Act on the 
grounds  that  the  redacted  material  is  considered  exempt  under  sections  33 
[documents  affecting  national  security,  defence  or  international  relations], 
section 47E [public interest conditional exemptions - operations of agency] and 
section 47F [public interest conditional exemptions  – personal privacy] of the 
FOI Act. 
b.  remove irrelevant material in accordance with section 22 of the FOI Act.  
Material taken into account 
In making my decision, I have had regard to: 
a.  the terms of the request; 
b.  the content of the identified documents in issue; 
c.  relevant provisions of the FOI Act;  
d.  the  Guidelines  published  by  the  Office  of  the  Australian  Information 
Commissioner under section 93A of the FOI Act (the Guidelines); and 
e.  consultation with the Office of the Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Chief of the 
Defence  Force,  the  Afghanistan  Implementation  Reform  Task  Force  and 
Strategic, Policy, and Industry Group. 
Section 22 – Access to edited copies with exempt or irrelevant matter deleted 
10.  Section 22 of the FOI Act permits an agency to prepare and provide an edited copy of a 
document where the agency has decided to refuse access to an exempt document or that 
to give access to a document would disclose information that would reasonably be 
regarded as irrelevant to the request for access.   
11.  I have identified exempt information within the documents that is considered irrelevant 
to the request such as signatures.  
12.  I am satisfied that it is reasonably practicable to remove the exempt and irrelevant 
material and release the documents to you in an edited form.  
Section 33 – Documents affecting national security, defence or international relations 
13.  Section 33(a) of the FOI Act relevantly states: 
A document is an exempt document if disclosure under the Act: 
(a) would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to: 
(i)  the security of the Commonwealth 
(iii) the international relations of the Commonwealth 

14.  Upon examination of the documents, I formed the view that disclosure of the 
information would, or could reasonably be expected to damage the security and 
international relations of the Commonwealth. 
15.  In relation to subsection 33(a)(i), the Guidelines state: 
Security of the Commonwealth 
5.29 The term ‘security of the Commonwealth’ broadly refers to: 
(a) the protection of Australia and its population from activities that are hostile 
to, or subversive of, the Commonwealth’s interests. 
5.30 A decision maker must be satisfied that disclosure of the information under 
consideration would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to the 
security of the Commonwealth. 

16.  Subsection 33(a)(iii) of the Guidelines provide: 
International relations 
5.36 The phrase ‘international relations’ has been interpreted as meaning the 
ability of the Australian Government to maintain good working relations with 
other governments and international organisations and to protect the flow of 
confidential information between them… 

5.37 The mere fact that a government has expressed concern about a disclosure is 
not enough to satisfy the exemption, but the phrase does encompass intangible or 
speculative damage, such as loss of trust and confidence in the Australian 
Government or one of its agencies. The expectation of damage to international 
relations must be reasonable in all the circumstances, having regard to the nature 
of the information; the circumstances in which it was communicated; and the 
nature and extent of the relationship. There must also be real and substantial 
grounds for the exemption that are supported by evidence. These grounds are not 
fixed in advance, but vary according to the circumstances of each case. 

17.  Paragraph 5.16 of the Guidelines provide that the term ‘reasonably expected’ requires 
consideration of the likelihood of the predicted or forecast damage. In particular, at 
paragraph 5.27, the Guidelines indicate that there must be ‘real’ and ‘substantial’ 
grounds for expecting the damage to occur, which can be supported by evidence or 
reasoning. A mere allegation or possibility of damage will be insufficient for the 
purposes of the exemption. 
18.  Having considered the above in relation to the identified documents, I have formed the 
view that disclosure of the relevant information in the documents would, or could 
reasonably be expected to, cause damage. 
19.  I identified material in the documents which, upon release, could reasonably be 
expected to cause damage to the security of the Commonwealth by making public, 
information relating to defence operations that are classified. The exempt material 
contains sensitive information about operational activity that could potentially allow 
bad actors with hostile intentions to exploit the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 
future scenarios as well as cause damage to, or risk to international forces involved. 

20.  In addition, if the information contained within the documents was to be disclosed and 
then combined with other pieces of information available to the public generally such as 
Defence techniques, tactics and procedures put in place to serve Australia’s Defence 
personnel deployment activities, then the amalgamation of such intel would have the 
potential to prejudice the effectiveness of those activities or future activities. 
21.  Furthermore, the documents contain information relating to Australia’s relationship 
with foreign governments. Release of this information could reasonably be expected to 
cause damage to those relationships. Any damage to international confidence and close 
relationships with other countries would seriously affect Defence’s ability to deliver on 
its obligations to protect Australia’s interests and government and foreign officials may 
be less willing to engage with Australian government officials in the future. 
22.  Based on my consideration of the above, I am of the view that release of the relevant 
information in the documents could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the 
national security and international relations of the Commonwealth. 
23.  It is for these reasons I have decided that the relevant information in the documents is 
exempt under sections 33(a)(i) and 33(a)(iii) of the FOI Act. 
Section 47E – Public interest conditional exemptions – certain operations of agencies  
24.  Section 47E(d) of the FOI Act states: 
A document is conditionally exempt if its disclosure under this Act would, or could 
reasonably be expected to, do any of the following:  

(d) have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient conduct of the 
operations of the agency. 
25.  Paragraph 6.123 of the FOI Guidelines provide that: 
The predicted effect must bear on the agency’s ‘proper and efficient’ operations, 
that is, the agency is undertaking its expected activities in an expected manner.
26.  In the case of ‘ABK’ and Commonwealth Ombudsman [2022] AICmr 44, the 
Information Commissioner (IC) found that where the direct names, email addresses and 
phone numbers of agency staff are not publicly known, they should be conditionally 
exempt under section 47E(d). The IC made this determination due to reasonable 
expectation that the release of direct contact details would undermine the operation of 
established channels of communication with the public. Further, the IC accepted that 
staff who were contacted directly could be subject to excessive and abusive 
communications, which may give rise to work health and safety concerns.  
27.  If the contact details of Defence personnel were to be made publicly available, it would 
have substantial adverse effects on the proper and efficient operation of existing public 
communication channels. Further, I am satisfied of a reasonable expectation that the 
information could be used inappropriately, in a manner which adversely affects the 
health, wellbeing and work of Defence personnel. Disclosure of names, email addresses 
and phone numbers could, therefore, reasonably be expected to prejudice the operations 
of Defence. 

28.  Accordingly, I am satisfied that the relevant information contained within the 
documents is conditionally exempt under section 47E(d) of the FOI Act. 
Section 47F – Public interest conditional exemptions - personal privacy  
29.  Section 47F(1) of the FOI Act states: 
A document is conditionally exempt if its disclosure under this Act would involve 
the unreasonable disclosure of personal information about any person (including 
a deceased person).  

30.  The FOI Act shares the same definition of ‘personal information’ as the Privacy Act 
1988 (Cth). The Guidelines provide that: 
6.128 Personal information means information or an opinion about an identified 
individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable: 

(a) whether the information or opinion is true or not; and 
(b) whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not. 

31.  I have found that the documents contain highly sensitive personal information. The 
documents include the names, ages, familial relationships and locations of multiple 
individuals, which if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to identify the third 
32.  In my assessment of whether the disclosure of personal information is unreasonable, I 
considered the following factors in accordance with section 47F(2): 
a. the extent to which the information is well known; 
b. whether the person to whom the information relates is known to be (or to have 
been) associated with the matters dealt with in the document; 
c. the availability of the information from publicly accessible sources;  
d. the effect the release of the personal information could reasonably have on the 
third party.  
33.  I found that the personal information relating to the third parties is not readily available 
from publicly accessible sources and could reasonably identify or cause harm to the 
individuals or their close relations.  
34.  Accordingly, I am satisfied that the information is conditionally exempt under section 
47F of the FOI Act. 
Public interest considerations - sections 47E and 47F  
35.  Section 11A(5) of the FOI Act states: 
The agency or Minister must give the person access to the document if it is 
conditionally exempt at a particular time unless (in the circumstances) 
access to the document at that time would, on balance, be contrary to the 
public interest.  

36.  I have considered the factors favouring disclosure as set out in section 11B(3) [factors 
favouring access] of the FOI Act. The relevant factors being whether access to the 
document would: 

(a) promote the objects of this Act (including all the matters set out in 
sections 3 and 3A); 

(b) inform debate on a matter of public importance; 
(c) promote effective oversight of public expenditure. 
37.  In my view, disclosure of this information would not increase public participation in the 
Defence process (section 3(2)(a) of the FOI Act), nor would it increase scrutiny or 
discussion of Defence activities (section 3(2)(b) of the FOI Act). 
38.  Paragraph 6.22 of the Guidelines specifies a non-exhaustive list of public interest 
factors against disclosure. The factors I find particularly relevant to this request are that 
release of this information could reasonably be expected to prejudice: 
  the protection of an individual’s right to privacy;  
  the interests of an individual or a group of individuals; 
  an agency’s ability to obtain confidential information; 
  the management function of an agency; and 
  the personnel management function of an agency. 
39.  While I accept that there is a public interest to ensure that Defence maintains the 
Commonwealth’s good internal working relationships with its stakeholders, I consider 
that the release of this information would harm the effectiveness in obtaining similar 
information or have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient conduct of 
the operations of Defence and the management of its personnel. In my view, this would 
not be in the public interest. 
40.  I am satisfied, based on the above particulars, the public interest factors against 
disclosure outweigh the factors for disclosure, and that, on balance, it is against the 
public interest to release the information to you.  
41.  I have not taken any of the factors listed in section 11B(4) [irrelevant factors] of the FOI 
Act into account when making this decision.  
42.  Accordingly, I find that the information is exempt under the sections 47E and 47F of the 
FOI Act. 
Digitally signed by 
 chris.austin Date: 2023.07.28 10:26:34 
Christopher Austin, ADC 
Accredited Decision Maker 
Headquarters Joint Operation Command 
Department of Defence