2016-17 Most Expensive Trip

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 travel expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive trip taken 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 faithfully,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape
 
I refer to your request of 8 August 2017 under the Freedom of Information
Act 1982 (the FOI Act).  Your request is in the following terms:
 
Can you please provide the travel expenses, invoices, receipts, credit
card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive trip taken by a
Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department's portfolio area in
2016-17.
 
Publicly available information
The Department of Finance (Finance) has various material publicly
available on its website. In particular, reporting of parliamentarian’s
work expenses has been published since 2008-09 at
[1]http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/p...
 
Detailed expenditure reporting for the Ministers in the Defence portfolio,
for the period July to December 2016, is available here:

* Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Defence:
[2]http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...
* The Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Defence Industry

[3]http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...

* The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister for
Veterans’ Affairs:
[4]http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...

 
New independent body to oversee parliamentarians’ expenses - IPEA
Established in April 2017, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses
Authority (IPEA) is an independent body overseeing parliamentarians’
expenses. IPEA has the following functions – I draw your attention to (3):

 1. Giving advice to parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act staff about travel
expenses and travel allowances.
 1. Monitoring the travel expenses and travel allowances of
parliamentarian and MOP(S) Act staff.
 1. Preparing regular reports relating to:

 a. all work expenses, travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by
parliamentarians
 a. travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by MOP(S) Act staff.

 4. Conducting audits relating to:

 c. all work expenses, travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by
parliamentarians
 c. travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by MOP(S) Act staff.

 5. Processing claims relating to travel expenses and travel allowances of
parliamentarians and their staff.

 
Since 3 April 2017, IPEA commenced responsibility for the reporting
functions of parliamentarians’ work expenses from Finance.
 
Reporting for January to June 2017
I have interpreted your request as being for information for the 2016-17
financial year. Reporting for the period January to June 2017 is currently
being compiled by IPEA.  I understand that reporting for the period
January to March 2017 will be available towards the end of September 2017.
Reporting for April to June 2017 will be available towards the end of
December in 2017.
 
As the information is still being completed for the full 2016-17 financial
year, it is not possible to identify the ‘most expensive trip’ until the
reporting and acquittal processes are completed.
 
Furthermore, I do not consider that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is
well-placed to identify the ‘most expensive trip’ in the portfolio.  The
Department neither performs the function of reporting on ministerial
travel, nor is the senior portfolio ministry. 
 
Transfer of request
Noting that reporting for the relevant period is yet to be completed, IPEA
has advised this Department that it is not inclined to accept a transfer
of the request under s 16 of the FOI Act. 
 
Withdrawal of request
For the above reasons, this Department is not in a position to respond
meaningfully to your FOI request. 
 
I suggest that you contact IPEA directly ([5][email address]) in relation
to your request for documents. You may wish to amend the scope of your
request, following your review of the publicly available information and
the comments made on reporting, as set out above.
 
As IPEA would be the most appropriate agency to process your request, I
invite you to withdraw your request made to the Department of Veterans’
Affairs under the FOI Act.  Should you wish to discuss this, please do not
hesitate to contact me.  The Department will consider your request to have
been withdrawn should we not hear from you by COB Friday, 18 July 2017.
 
Kind regards
 
Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | [6]www.dva.gov.au
ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [7][email address]
 
 
Alexander Gent
Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | [8]www.dva.gov.au
ph (02) 6289 6581 | ext 616581 | e [email address]
 
 

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From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello, thanks for the response here.

Are you able to vary my request so it covers Departmental records only? I imagine there were some trips taken by a number of Departmental staff alongside the Minister for which the Department has records. The most expensive of these trips (based on the Department's record keeping) I am interested in.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

Freedom of Information Request: FOI 17387

I refer to previous correspondence with regard to Freedom of Information request FOI 17387, received on 8 August 2017:

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

By your email of 16 August 2017, you amended the scope of FOI 17387:
‘so it covers Departmental records only[.] … there were some trips taken by a number of Departmental staff alongside the Minister for which the Department has records. The most expensive of these trips (based on the Department's record keeping) I am interested in.’
Amended scope

I have considered the scope of your revised request.

‘Departmental records’

First, the way in which you have limited the scope of your request in your email of 16 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 records only’ and ‘Departmental record-keeping’ does not narrow that request because an FOI request is ipso facto limited to ‘Departmental records’ by section 4 of the Act.

‘alongside the Minister’

Second, paragraph 15(2)(b) of the FOI Act provides that to be valid, a request must ‘provide such information concerning the document as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency … to identify it.’ This means that in order to process an FOI request, a responsible officer should be able to look at the wording of your request, and then look at a document, and be able readily to determine whether that document falls within the scope (and is therefore subject to your request).

Departmental employees travel throughout Australia and overseas and to attend to matters falling within the responsibilities of all areas of the Department, including the Department’s State offices. Your request is therefore likely to capture a large volume and range of documents that would each need to be individually reviewed to determine whether the travel was ‘alongside the Minister’. It would 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), to determine whether the travel was ‘alongside the Minister’.

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 creation of new documents and potentially the analysis of documents and/or information not held by the Department. Your right to access a ‘document of an agency’ does not require the Department to create a new document, or to review documents of other agencies. For these reasons, I consider your request does not meet the requirements of the FOI Act, in that it does not provide sufficient information to allow identification of documents that are within scope, as required by paragraph 15(2)(b) of the Act.

‘Most expensive’

Third, 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’ trip, it will be necessary for the Department to review every trip across the relevant time period. Searches for documents responding to these terms, and reviewing each potentially relevant document to determine the ‘most expensive’ trip 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;

• narrowing the scope to a more specific subject matter; and/or

• removing references to ‘alongside the Minister’ and ‘most expensive’ trip from your request, for the reasons set out above.

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]

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Consider limiting to overseas travel by Departmental staff only, which is a much smaller subset of the Department's travel transactions, which will make it more difficult for the agency to do a practical refusal.

It's a bit ridiculous when an agency suggests you need to have exact references, when only the agency has access to that information, and this is also contrary to the FOI Act, which allows for the scope of an FOI to be less precise (as long as you clearly specify the sort of documents you are looking for, the agency should make a reasonable attempt to help identity those documents sought).

The alternative is seeking details from the Minister's Office of the dates and locations of discrete trips undertaken, and then seek Departmental travel records that align to that information.

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From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello,

Thanks for getting back to me.

Can you please provide a database extract or spreadsheet from your financial management system of all travel in 2016/17, including cost, segment, date, code (if available), category (if available) for each record.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape

I have interpreted your revised request of 31 August 2017 to be for records relating to all travel in 2016/17 made by Departmental staff. I am of the view that the terms ‘cost’, ‘segment’ and date provide sufficient information to the Department as is necessary to enable the Department to identify the information you are requesting. However, I do not consider that the terms ‘code’ and ‘category’ as applicable to each record are sufficiently unambiguous. Accordingly, I invite you to amend your request to exclude the latter two terms.

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. The date on which the Department is due to make a decision on your request is 7 September 2017. Accordingly, 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 the Department sufficient time to process the new terms of your request, in circumstances where the Department has made considerable efforts under s 15(3) to assist you to make your FOI request in a manner that meets the requirements of s 15.

Given the short time currently remaining in this matter, it would assist the Department were you to indicate your agreement to amend and extend the processing of this 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]

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

On 7 September 2017, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner made a decision under s 15AB(2) of the FOI Act to extend the processing period for this request to 7 October 2017. A factor in the decision to extend was the Department's continuing consultation with you. The purpose of this email is to further the consultation process.

In my email of 5 September 2017 I advised you that the terms 'code' and 'category' are ambiguous. I again invite you to amend or clarify your request with regard to those terms so that the Department is in a position to make a decision about your request.

Your request as it currently stands has been made with regards to 'all travel in 2016/2017'. To illustrate the number of records this may encompass, in FY 2015/16 staff undertook 3,790 trips. While the data for FY16/17 is yet to be compiled, the number of trips is likely to be comparable. With this in mind, you may wish to narrow your request so that fewer records are encompassed. This will reduce the likelihood of a practical refusal reason existing with regard to your request.

The Department hopes to continue to consult with you informally. However, should this not prove successful, or expend too much of the statutory processing time, the Department will likely issue you a practical refusal notice under s 24AB.

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]

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From: Gent, Alexander
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

Freedom of Information Request: FOI 17387

I refer to your request for access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), which now seeks access to “a database extract or spreadsheet from your financial management system of all travel in 2016/17, including cost, segment, date, code (if available), category (if available) for each record.”

Background

On 8 August 2017 you sought access to “the travel expenses, invoices, receipts, credit card statements and reimbursements for the most expensive trip taken by a Minister or Assistant Minister in your Department’s portfolio area in 2016-17”.

The Department has undertaken informal consultation with you with a view to refining your request. By email dated 15 August 2017, 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, which has taken over responsibility for reporting parliamentarians’ work expenses.

By email dated 16 August 2017, you amended the scope of your request “so that it covers Departmental records only[.] … there were some trips taken by a number of Departmental staff alongside the Minister for which the Department has records. The most expensive of these trips (based on the Department’s record keeping) I am interested in.”

By my email of 29 August 2017, the Department advised you that your request (as it then stood) did not meet the requirements of the FOI Act in that it does not provide sufficient information to allow identification of documents that are within scope, as required by paragraph 15(2)(b) of the Act.

By your email of 31 August 2017 you further amended the scope of your request to “a database extract or spreadsheet from your financial management system of all travel in 2016/17, including cost, segment, date, code (if available), category (if available) for each record.”

On 7 September 2017, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner made a decision under s 15AB(2) of the FOI Act to extend the processing period for this request to 7 October 2017.

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 applicable to your request is that the work involved in processing your request would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the Department from its operations as specified in section 24AA(1)(a)(i) of the FOI Act due to its size and complexity.

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 reason exists in relation to your request are set out below.

Why I intend to refuse your request

Request is substantial

As you were previously advised by the Department by email dated 15 September 2017, your request covers a large number of records. There are in excess of 3543 trips covered by your request.

To analyse the thousands of trips your request encompasses, it will be necessary for the Department to review every trip across the relevant time period. Searches for documents and reviewing each potentially relevant document would require the Department to review thousands of documents and many hours of decision making time. To do this would divert the resources away from the Department’s other activities.

Request is unreasonable

For the purpose of providing this notice, I have considered whether the substantial resource burden would be unreasonable. Processing potentially thousands of documents is, at face value, an unreasonable burden for a single FOI request, taking into account the need to process multiple requests at any given time, and the impact this would have on responding to other FOI applicants.

As the Department previously advised you by email dated 5 September 2017, the inclusion of the terms ‘code’ and ‘category’ do not provide sufficient information to the Department as is necessary to enable the Department to identify the information you are requesting.

I have concluded the request as it currently stands is unreasonable, as well as substantial (as outlined above).

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 trip 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 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:

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]

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Veterans' Affairs only: