17 September 2019
E) foi+request‐5536‐[email address]
Dear P Johns FOI REQUEST– REFERENCE NUMBER 201920‐006
I refer to your email of 29 July 2019 in which you sought access to the following under the Freedom of
Information Act 1982
(the FOI Act):
“All correspondence between Dan Oakes and David McBride relating to the afghan files publication.”
I am authorised by the Managing Director under Section 23 of the FOI Act to make decisions in respect
of requests made under that Act. Following is my decision in relation to your request. Decision – Section 7(2) (program material)
The ABC is specifically excluded from the operation of the FOI Act in relation to its program material,
and documents in relation to its program material, by virtue of Section 7(2) and Division 1 of Part II of
Schedule 2 of the FOI Act.
'Program material' is not defined in the FOI Act. However, it has been the subject of judicial
consideration. The FOI Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner (the Guidelines)
summarise this case law at paragraph 2.16:
The exemption for ‘program material’ of the ABC and SBS has been considered in Federal Court,1
AAT2 and IC review cases.3 Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Herald and Weekly Times
Pty Limited, the AAT held that program material means a document ‘which is the program and
all versions of the whole or any part of the program, any transmission broadcast or publication
1 See Australian Broadcasting Corporation v University of Technology, Sydney  FCA 964; and Bell v
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation  FCAFC 40.
2 Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Herald and Weekly Times Pty Limited  AATA 914
3 Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd and Australian Broadcasting Corporation  AICmr 7; ‘
F’ and Australian
Broadcasting Corporation  AICmr 8; ‘
ER’ and Special Broadcasting Service  AICmr 12; and Fist and
Australian Broadcasting Corporation  AICmr 14.
of the program, and includes a document of any content or form embodied in the program and
any document acquired or created for the purpose of creating the program, whether or not
incorporated into the complete program’.4
When it comes to documents ‘in relation to’ program material, the Guidelines adopt the ‘reasonably
direct relationship’ test in ABC and HWT
.5 I consider this the correct approach, i.e. that the ABC
exemption applies to documents comprising ‘program material’ in the sense described above, as well as
documents which have a reasonably direct relationship with that program material. The Guidelines
contrast ‘reasonably direct’ with a connection that is “indirect, remote or tenuous”.6 I have taken the
Mr McBride is an external party to the ABC and is therefore not party to or involved in any
administrative or other day‐to‐day operational functions of the ABC. His contact with the ABC in relation
to a specific piece of ABC content could only be in relation to that article or program’s substance. Any
document containing correspondence between Mr McBride and Mr Oakes, that is also a document
containing discussions surrounding publication of the Afghan Files, would, by its nature, be ABC program
material or have a direct relationship with program material.
It is clear you are seeking access to documents which are, or have a direct relationship to, the
substantive matter of specific piece of ABC content. Those documents are ‘program material’ for the
purposes of the FOI Act, and the ABC is exempt from the operation of the Act in relation to them. On
that basis, access to the documents described in your request is refused under section 7(2) of the FOI
Act and no further steps will be taken in this matter. Review rights
You have rights in relation to this decision. Those rights are set out in Annexure A
to this decision.
Head of Corporate Governance & FOI Coordinator
[ABC request email]
4  AATA 914 .
6 OAIC Guidelines, [2.16]
Annexure A – Review rights
If you are dissatisfied with this decision you can apply for Internal or Information Commissioner (IC) Review. You do
not have to apply for Internal Review before seeking IC Review.
Application for Internal Review
You have the right to apply for an internal review of the decision refusing to grant access to documents in
accordance with your request. If you make an application for review, the Managing Director will appoint an officer
of the Corporation (not the person who made the initial decision) to conduct a review and make a completely fresh
decision on the merits of the case.
You must apply in writing for a review of the decision within 30 days of receipt of this letter. No particular form is
required to apply for review, although it would help if you set out the reasons for review in your application.
Application for a review of the decision should be addressed to:
The FOI Coordinator
700 Harris Street
ULTIMO NSW 2007
Or sent to: [ABC request email]
Application for Information Commissioner (IC) Review
Alternatively, you have the right to apply for a review by the Information Commissioner of the decision refusing to
grant access to documents in accordance with your request. Your application must:
be in writing
be made within 60 days of receipt of this letter
give details of how notices may be sent to you (for instance, by providing an email address)
include a copy of the decision for which a review sought.
You should be aware that the Information Commissioner has a discretion not to undertake a review (see Division 5,
Please refer to the OAIC website FOI review process page for further information and/or to access the online form
for applying for IC review:
Application for a review of the decision by the Information Commissioner should be addressed to:
Director of FOI Dispute Resolution
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001
Or sent to: [email address]
Complaints to the Information Commissioner
You may complain to the Information Commissioner about any action taken by the ABC in the performance of
functions, or exercise of powers, under the FOI Act. The Information Commissioner may make inquiries for the
purpose of determining whether or not to investigate a complaint.
Complaints should be made in writing to the following address:
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001