2016-17 Most Expensive Trip

Jackson Gothe-Snape made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Defence

The request was refused by Department of Defence.

From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Dear Department of Defence,

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 Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Good Morning,

Thank you for your FOI inquiry, it has been forwarded for consideration/action.

Regards,
____________________________
Jo Groves
Assistant Director
Freedom of Information

Information Management & Access Branch
Governance & Reform Division
Telephone: (02) 6266 3948
CP1-6-005 [email address]

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From: Beacroft, Melanie DR
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape

Thank you for your request, dated 9 August 2017, made under the Freedom of
Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) for the following:

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.

Publically 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, please see here:
[1]http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/p...

Specifically in relation to your request, 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:
[4]http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...

New independent body to oversee parliamentarians’ expenses - IPEA

From 3 April 2017, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA)
was established as an independent body to oversee parliamentarians’
expenses. In particular, IPEA has the following functions (our emphasis):

· Giving advice to parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act staff about travel
expenses and travel allowances.

· Monitoring the travel expenses and travel allowances of parliamentarian
and MOP(S) Act staff.

· Preparing regular reports relating to:

o all work expenses, travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by
parliamentarians

o travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by MOP(S) Act staff.

· Conducting audits relating to:

o all work expenses, travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by
parliamentarians

o travel expenses and travel allowances claimed by MOP(S) Act staff.

· 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. You may be
aware that over time, reporting by IPEA will transition from six-monthly
reporting to a quarterly and then to a monthly reporting basis, to improve
transparency and accountability for parliamentarians’ work expenses.

Reporting for January to June 2017

We note that you have requested information for the 2016-17 financial
year. Reporting for the period January to June 2017 is currently being
compiled by IPEA. We understand that reporting for the period January to
March 2017 will be available towards the end of quarter 3 in 2017.
Reporting for April to June 2017 will be available towards the end of
quarter 4 in 2017.

Defence acknowledges that there is a public interest in obtaining
information on parliamentarians’ travel expenses, which is consistent with
the regime to publish this material.

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.

Suggested way forward

As Defence does not perform the function for reporting on ministerial
travel, Defence does not hold the information requested. The functions are
more closely aligned with IPEA.

We suggest that you contact IPEA directly ([5][email address]) in relation
to your request for documents. We note that 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, we
will consider your request withdrawn from Defence unless you advise
otherwise, by Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Kind regards,
 
Dr Melanie Beacroft
A/Assistant Director, Freedom of Information
Information Management and Access
Governance and Reform Division
 
Department of Defence
CP1-06-005A
PO Box 7910 Canberra ACT 2610
(02) 6266 3685
I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
 

IMPORTANT: This email remains the property of the Department of Defence
and is subject to the jurisdiction of section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914.
If you have received this email in error, you are requested to contact the
sender and delete the email.

References

Visible links
1. blocked::http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/p...
http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/p...
2. http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...
3. http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...
4. http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/...
5. blocked::mailto:[email address]
mailto:[email address]

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From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello,

I am interested in trips taken by a Minister that also included Departmental staff. Can you please process the request on that basis, based only on Departmental records.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: Beacroft, Melanie DR
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Hi Jackson,

I refer to your email below. Unfortunately, in its current form your request is not considered valid under section 15(2)(b) [Requests for access] of the FOI Act as you have not provided such specific information concerning the documents as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency to identify them.

Accordingly, prior to the Department accepting your request, I seek clarification as to the documents you wish to obtain.

Are you interested in all trips taken by a Minister that included Departmental staff? Or the most expensive trip? Are you referring to a particular trip or a particular Minister? Are you referring to FY 16/17? Do you want the expenses for Departmental staff only?

I encourage you to contact me so I can assist you in moving forward with your inquiry.

Regards

Dr Melanie Beacroft
A/Assistant Director, Freedom of Information Information Management and Access Governance and Reform Division

Department of Defence
CP1-06-005A
PO Box 7910 Canberra ACT 2610
(02) 6266 3685
I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

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From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Hello,

Can you please vary the request to the following:

Please provide an itemised summary of all trips booked with your travel provider for 2016-17 in a spreadsheet format.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: Beacroft, Melanie DR
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Good afternoon Mr Gothe-Snape,

In its current form your revised request below is too large to process.

It is likely to attract a practical refusal reason under section 24AA of the FOI Act.

Assuming that you are after all trips booked with the travel provider for the Department of Defence, there are over 60,000 employees of the Department. It is simply not possible to provide an itemised summary of all trips booked for that many staff over a 12 month period.

Can you please be more specific about the documents you are seeking?

Please keep in mind that if you are referring to travel expenses for the Minister then the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority will publish that information in due course.

Kind regards,

Dr Melanie Beacroft
A/Assistant Director, Freedom of Information Information Management and Access Governance and Reform Division

Department of Defence
CP1-06-005A
PO Box 7910 Canberra ACT 2610
(02) 6266 3685
I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

It would appear Dr Beacroft has not understood the Applicant's FOI Request as made, regarding it as one seeking travel expenses to be reported by individual Defence employees (although some scepticism must be given here, even if interpreted this way, as such details are easily collected enough through the summary reporting function of Defence's Card Management System, for those transactions processed through the Defence Travel Card where the vast majority of transactions for travel expenses are processed through), rather than as "summary" reporting.

Summary reporting does not suggest reporting by individual, and given that posting of travel expenses by the Department, is part of the financial statements of the Department, and that this information could be easily enough obtained from the Department's financial information management system (travel expenses are broken down into account codes, and can be readily reported in summary format), this response deserves some criticism.

It should also be noted, that where an agency entertains a practical refusal, the agency carries the onus of proof, and it should have conducted an actual scoping study (not merely made outrageous guesstimates) and it must engage in a practical refusal consultation process (which should be open and honest).

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Can I suggest, to avoid getting mucked around further, that you put the following revised scope (or similar) to Defence:

I seek a summary report of all ROMAN (Defence's Financial Management Information System) travel related account codes, by total transactional value, by month, for Financial Years XX/XX etc under s 17 of the FOI Act

This is better than asking for this information from the travel provider, as there is more than one travel provider to Defence. ROMAN has different account codes for different sorts of travel expenditure (i.e. Accomodation, Flights, etc).

You could also ask for this information broken down by major functional area if you wanted.

Do note that some travel for Defence employees may not come from Defence, so this information won't include that, just that which Defence pays for.

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From: Jackson Gothe-Snape

Delivered

Dear Beacroft, Melanie DR,

Can you please amend my request as follows:

I seek a summary report of all ROMAN related account codes, by total transactional value, by month, for 2016/17 under s17 of the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

Jackson Gothe-Snape

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From: Beacroft, Melanie DR
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Good afternoon Mr Gothe-Snape,

As before, your revised request below is too large to process.

It is likely to attract a practical refusal reason under section 24AA of the FOI Act.

This is the third time you have attempted to revise the scope of your original request. Each time your request gets broader and encompasses more documents than the previous revision.

As such, it is Defence's position that we have satisfied the requirements of section 24AB and undergone a request consultation process for your original request and taken reasonable steps to assist you.

We consider the original request withdrawn.

Kind regards,

Dr Melanie Beacroft
A/Assistant Director, Freedom of Information Information Management and Access Governance and Reform Division

Department of Defence
CP1-06-005A
PO Box 7910 Canberra ACT 2610
(02) 6266 3685
I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

This is another woeful response from Defence:
* The ADM has withdrawn and closed the FOI, without the consent of FOI originator; and
* Has made a practical refusal decision, but in a very informal manner inconsistent with the obligations under the FOI Act.

The FOI Act specifies in detail the procedure to be followed in making decisions on FOI requests. For example, agencies are required to provide reasonable assistance to persons to make FOI requests (s 15), notify an applicant that a request has been received (s 15(5)), allow an applicant a reasonable opportunity to revise a request before it is refused for a practical refusal reason (s 24AB), allow an applicant to respond before a charge is imposed (s 29), provide to the applicant a written statement of the reasons for the decision (s 26), and advise the applicant of their right to seek internal review or IC review of an adverse decision (s 26(1)(c)).

A request for documents under the FOI Act must meet the following formal requirements:
* The request must be in writing (s 15(2)(a)).
* The request must state that it is a request for the purposes of the FOI Act (s 15(2)(aa)). [Agencies and ministers should nevertheless take a flexible approach when assessing whether an applicant has met this requirement]
* The request must provide such information as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency or the minister to identify the document that is requested (s 15(2)(b)) [if not, agency or minister must undertake a ‘request consultation process’]
* The request must give details of how notices under the FOI Act may be sent to the applicant (s 15(2)(c)).
*The request must be sent to the agency

An agency or minister may refuse a request if a ‘practical refusal reason’ exists. These are only two recognised grounds on which an agency can claim a 'practical refusal reason' exists:
* a request does not sufficiently identify the requested documents; or
* the resource impact of processing the request would be substantial and unreasonable.

In either instance the agency or minister must first follow a ‘request consultation process’ before refusing the request.

The revised FOI application clearly identifies what it seeks, which is very likely to be already in discrete documentary form (EOM financial summary reports), but failing that, could be produced from ROMAN under s 17 without issue given such reporting functions in ROMAN are already built-in. [note on this ground, although not applicable here, a request can be described quite broadly and must be read fairly by an agency or minister, being mindful not to take a narrow or pedantic approach to its construction - the Applicant may describe a class of documents, or may be phrased by reference to the information that documents contain, and still satisfy this requirement]

Therefore the only ground left is "substantial and unreasonable" resource impact.

Now agencies making this claim have the onus of proof, and must be able to demonstrate, such as by providing a breakdown of the time estimated for each stage in processing a request, which can be obtained through sampling a reasonable selection of the relevant scope as an indication of the time that may be required. The assessment of the sample would provide an accurate indication of the time and complexity of the scope of the FOI, and an agency could rely on such a basis.

However, here, the agency just claims it is all too complex and voluminous, without any evidentiary support (therefore pretty much a hand waving self serving claim). Bluntly put, that is well below the standard required to be met by the agency here.

The Applicant should seek an Internal Review decision (which unfortunately given Defence's FOI approaches of late is likely to be a rubber stamp), and then proceed to IC Review before the Australian Information Commissioner, because the agency's response here absolutely woeful and well below the legislative standard set by the FOI Act.

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Also, Dr Beacroft should have been well aware that it is a legal obligation of agency FOI staff to, when making practical refusal decisions, to advise FOI applicants of the statutory review rights open to them, with that decision (which is another reason agencies should not communicate such decisions informally, such as in the body of an email, rather than a formal document).

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Dear Mr Gothe-Snape,

As it appears you and your request were treated in a manner well below that required by the FOI Act, I thought I'd offer some assistance to gather information to would assist you in putting the FOI request in again, with the level of detail the Department seeks (which is difficult to do when you don't have access to the information required to do so).

I have therefore made two requests to Defence to obtain the information needed - https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/r... and https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a...

You may also find of interest the following:
Defence FOI 397/15/16 - http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Discl... and http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Discl...
Defence FOI 359/15/16 - http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Discl... and http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Discl...
ANAO Performance Audit Report No.33 2015–16 - https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/g/files/ne...
FAD&T Senate Report - http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/down...
The following news reports - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-08/de...
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national...
http://www.news.com.au/national/breaking...

Sensitivities following this adverse reporting may have played a part in the resistance to your FOI request.

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
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