2016-17 Most Expensive Event

Jackson Gothe-Snape made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Veterans' Affairs

The request was refused by Department of Veterans' Affairs.

From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Dear Department of Veterans' Affairs,

This is a request under the FOI Act.

Can you please provide the budgets, menus, expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive event attended by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department's portfolio area in 2016-17.

I request that any fees arising in relation to this request be waived as the information is in the public interest, as it helps inform the public about how the government is spending public revenue.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

I refer to your request of 8 August 2017, which asked:

Can you please provide the budgets, menus, expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive event attended by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department's portfolio area in 2016-17.

On the same day, you made another FOI request seeking documents regarding the ‘most expensive trip’ taken by a Minister in the Defence portfolio. In seeking to interpret your ‘most expensive event’ request, the Department is of the view that the ‘most expensive event’ would be an event that involves overseas travel.

As such, I advert to my previous email to you regarding your ‘most expensive trip’ request in advising you that the Department is not in a position to respond meaningfully to your FOI request regarding the ‘most expensive event’. The Department neither performs the function of reporting on ministerial travel, nor is the senior portfolio ministry.

Bearing in mind what information is available publicly, and that reporting for the relevant period is yet to be completed (factors which would disincline the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority to accept transfer of this request under s 16 of the FOI Act), I invite you to amend or withdraw your request.

Should you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me. The Department will consider your request to have been withdrawn, should we not hear from you by close of business on Thursday, 24 August 2017.

Kind regards,

Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au
ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [email address]

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello Alexander,

Please amend my request based on the following:

Can you please provide the budgets, menus, expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive event attended by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department's portfolio area in 2016-17 - based only on Departmental record-keeping.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

Freedom of Information Request: FOI 17388

I refer to previous correspondence with regard to Freedom of Information request FOI 17388, received on 8 August 2017:

Can you please provide the budgets, menus, expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive event attended by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department's portfolio area in 2016-17.

By email of 22 August 2017, you amended the scope of FOI 17388 so that it is ‘based only on Departmental record-keeping.’
Amended scope

I have considered the scope of your revised request.

‘Departmental record-keeping’

First, the way in which you have limited the scope of your request in your email of 22 August 2017 unfortunately does not meaningfully narrow the scope.

Section 11 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) provides, subject to the rest of the Act, a legally enforceable right for any person to obtain access to ‘a document of an agency’ and ‘an official document of a Minister’. A document of an agency is defined in section 4 of the Act as a document which is ‘in the possession of the agency, whether created in the agency or received by the agency’.

In these circumstances limiting the scope of your request to ‘Departmental record-keeping’ does not narrow that request because an FOI request is ipso facto limited to ‘Departmental record-keeping’ by section 4 of the Act.

‘Department's portfolio area’

Second, your right under section 11 to access a ‘document of an agency’ does not require the Department to review documents of other agencies. When you include within the terms of your request events ‘in your Department’s portfolio area’, these words may require this Department to analyse documents properly described as documents ‘of’ the Department of Defence. The Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are the two departments within the ‘portfolio area’ of Defence. It would also require the analysis of information within the documents, potentially by cross-reference to information contained in documents held by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and/or the relevant Minister’s office (noting that under the FOI Act Minsters and agencies are treated as separate agencies)

I therefore consider your request is not possible to process merely by application of the terms of the request to identity documents within scope; it would require the analysis of documents and/or information not held by the Department. For these reasons, I consider your request does not meet the requirements of the FOI Act, in that it does not allow identification of documents ‘of’ the Department, as required by section 11 of the Act.

‘Most expensive’

Third, Ministers and Assistant Ministers attend a wide variety of events in their official capacities. Given the large volume and range of documents which your request is likely to capture, I consider that it may be unreasonable for the Department to adequately process your request. To identify the ‘most expensive’ event, it will be necessary for the Department to review every event across the relevant time period. Searches for documents responding to these terms, and reviewing each potentially relevant document to determine the ‘most expensive’ event, would require the review of potentially thousands of documents and many hours of decision-making time to determine what is the ‘most expensive’ incident. To do this would be to unreasonably divert resources away from the Department’s other activities.

What should you do?

You can revise your request into a form which allows the Department to identify the documents within the scope of your request, and in a way which does not unreasonably divert the Department’s resources.

If you are able to pinpoint the specific documents within your request, or clarify more particularly the information you are seeking, that may allow the Department to process your request. In particular, you may wish to consider:

• restricting the date range to a smaller period of time; and/or

• narrowing the scope to a more specific subject matter.

Contact us

If you wish further to revise the scope of your request, or alternately if you wish to withdraw your request, please do not hesitate to contact me using the following details:

Post: Legal Services & Assurance, Department of Veterans’ Affairs GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601
Facsimile: (02) 6289 6337
Email: [DVA request email]

As your request was received on 8 August 2017, the date on which the Department is due to make decisions on that request is 7 September 2017. Accordingly, the Department will consider your request to have been withdrawn, should we not hear from you by close of business on Friday 1 September 2017.

Yours sincerely,

Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [email address]

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello,

Thanks for this, it's very helpful in narrowing the scope.

To help in this process, what is your financial management system? Would it be easy to simply provide a database extract from that with an event code, category (if available), cost and date?

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

In response to your email of 31 August 2017, the Department’s financial management system is Eclipse E5. This system does not track events as a discrete category. Rather, a particular nominal code identifies a particular expenditure as being related to hospitality. To provide you with information regarding event expenditure, the Department would be required to review each line with a hospitality nominal and determine from its description whether it pertains to an ‘event’. As the description field is not required to record whether expenditure relates to an ‘event’, the Department would have no confidence in the figures it would provide.

The Department has now been consulting with you for the majority of the period prescribed by s 15 of the FOI Act for the processing of your request. Despite our mutual efforts, the Department does not have before it a request which it is able to process, for the reasons set out in my email of 29 August 2017. The date on which the Department is due to make a decision on your request is 7 September 2017.

In these circumstances, I seek your agreement to an extension of the processing period of 30 days under s 15AA of the FOI Act. The purpose of this extension would be to allow more time for consultations as to the scope of your request. In the alternative, you may wish to withdraw your FOI request to allow for consultation (outside the s 15 timeframe) on what the Department may be able to provide to you. You would then be in a position to make a further, formal request once better informed of the way the Department records this type of information.

Given the short time currently remaining in this matter, it would assist the Department were you to indicate your agreement to an extension, or your intention to withdraw your request, by COB 6 September 2017. Should you wish to discuss this request with me, please do not hesitate to make use of the contact details below.

Kind regards,

Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au
ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [email address]

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

Freedom of Information Request: FOI 17388

I refer to your request for access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) received 8 August 2017, seeking access to “the budgets, menus, expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive event attended by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department’s portfolio area in 2016-17”.

Background

As outlined below, the Department has undertaken informal consultation with you with a view to refining your request.

By email dated 15 August 2017 in relation to your related request regarding the ‘most expensive trip taken by a Minister’, the Department provided you with links to publicly available information regarding expenditure reporting for Ministers in the Defence portfolio, and directed you to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA), which has taken over responsibility for reporting parliamentarians’ work expenses.

The Department provided you with further details on the issues related to your request on 29 August 2017. On 5 September 2017 the Department advised you of the way it records hospitality expenditure.

Notice of intention to refuse

I, Alexander Gent, Legal Officer, Information Law, Legal Services & Assurance, am an officer authorised by the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (the Department) to make decisions about access to documents in the possession of the Department in accordance with section 23(1) of the FOI Act.

This is a notice of an intention to refuse access to the documents you have requested because a ‘practical refusal reason’ exists under section 24(1) of the FOI Act. I am issuing this notice under section 24AB(2) of the FOI Act. The practical refusal reason is that your request in its current form does not satisfy the requirements of section 15(2)(b) of the FOI Act, in that it does not provide such information concerning the documents as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible office of the Department to identify them. This is a ‘practical refusal reason’ under section 24AA(1)(b) of the FOI Act.

Under section 24AA(2) of the FOI Act, the agency must have regard to the resources that would have to be used for:
o identifying, locating or collating the documents within the filing system of the agency;
o deciding whether to grant, refuse or defer access to a document to which the request relates, or to grant access to an edited copy of such a document (including resources that would have to be used for examining the document or consulting with any person or body in relation to the request);
o making a copy or an edited copy, of the document; and
o notifying any interim or final decision on the request.

I consider that all of the above factors have a bearing on your request. The reasons why a practical refusal reasons exists in relation to your request are set out below.

Why I intend to refuse your request

The Department has undertaken informal consultation with you regarding your request, however it is still unclear what documents you are seeking access to.

By email dated 18 August 2017, the Department advised you that it is not in a position to respond meaningfully to your FOI request regarding the ‘most expensive event’. In response, by email dated 22 August 2017, you asked that your request for documents relating to the ‘most expensive event’ be based only on Departmental record-keeping. By email dated 29 August 2017, the Department explained why this did not usefully clarify the scope of your request. In response you asked about the Department’s financial management system. By email dated 5 September 2017, the Department provided information regarding its financial management system, and further explained that the system did not record whether expenditure related to an ‘event’.

In order to process an FOI request, the wording of the request should enable a responsible officer to identify the documents that can reasonably be taken to be included within the scope of the request. The formulation of your request for access to documents relating to the ‘most expensive event’ is too unclear to be processed. As the Department previously advised you by email dated 29 August 2017, the inclusion of the term ‘in your portfolio area’ may require the Department to analyse documents properly described as documents ‘of’ the Department of Defence, as the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are the two departments within the ‘portfolio area’ of Defence. It would also require the analysis of information within the documents, potentially by cross-reference to information contained in documents held by the IPEA and the relevant Minister’s office.

I therefore consider that identification of the documents you seek would require analysis of documents and/or information not held by the Department. For these reasons, I consider your request does not meet the requirements of the FOI Act, in that it does not allow identification of documents ‘of’ the Department, as required by section 11 of the FOI Act.

What you should do?

You can revise the request in a form that would remove the ground for refusal. Please note that even if you do modify your request, it is possible that a practical refusal reason under subsection 24AA(1)(a)(i) may still exist or the Department may need further time to process your revised request – this will depend on the terms of your final request. As far as is reasonably practicable, we are happy to provide you with further information to assist you in making your request in such a form that removes the practical refusal ground.

If you are able to pinpoint the specific documents within your request, or clarify more particularly the information you are seeking, that would assist. In particular, you may wish to consider restricting the date range to a smaller period of time, or identifying a particular event that is of interest to you.

Please note you have 14 days from the date you receive this notice to either:
• withdraw the request
• make a revised request
• indicate that you do not wish to revise the request.

If you do not respond in one of these ways within 14 days the request will be taken to have been withdrawn pursuant to section 24AB(7) of the FOI Act. If you indicate you do not wish to revise your request, the Department will proceed to make a decision on whether to refuse the request on resource grounds under section 24(1).

Please note that under section 24AB(8) of the FOI Act, the time for processing your FOI requests is suspended from the day you receive this notice until the day you do one of the things listed above.
If you would like to revise your request or have any questions, please contact me using the details listed below:

Telephone: (02) 6289 6581
Post: Legal Services & Assurance, Department of Veterans’ Affairs
GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601
Facsimile: (02) 6289 6337
Email: [DVA request email]

Yours sincerely

Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au
ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [email address]

show quoted sections

Link to this

Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Veterans' Affairs only: