This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Correspondence relating to the Australian Public Service Commissioner's representative's putative power of veto'.


 
 
 
 
 
 
FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA 
REGISTRY 
 
 
 
 
 
COMMONWEALTH LAW COURTS 
 
3 ANGAS STREET 
 
ADELAIDE SA 5000 
 
GPO BOX 1350 
ADELAIDE   SA  5001 
 
20 June 2022 
 
Stork 
Right to Know 
 
By email: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx.xx  
 
Dear Stork 
 
Request for an internal review under the Freedom of Information Act 
 
I refer to your email correspondence of 21 May 2022 (9:22PM) seeking an internal review of 
the decision made on 20 May 2022.   
 
Authorised decision-maker 
 
I am authorised to make a decision on behalf of the Federal Court of Australia (Court) in 
relation to your internal review request.  In conducting the internal review, I acknowledge 
that an internal review is a merit review process and that I am required to bring a fresh, 
independent and impartial mind to the review.   
 
Material taken into Account 
In making my decision on internal review, I have considered the following material:   
  your FOI request received on 21 March 2022 (10:34PM) (FOI request);  
  the decision letter to you dated 20 May 2022;  
  your request for internal review received on 21 May 2022 (9:22PM) (review 
request);  
  the documents identified as falling within the scope of your request; 
  the records of the searches conducted by Court staff; 
  the third party submissions received following consultations under s 27A of the 
Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act); 
  the FOI Act and relevant case law; and 
  the guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner under section 93A 
of the FOI Act (FOI Guidelines).  

Decision on Internal Review 
  
In relation to the documents described in your FOI request, the searches conducted by the 
Court found emails dated September and October 2018 within the scope of your request.   
 
I refuse access to these emails.  The emails are conditionally exempt from disclosure under ss 
47C, 47E(c) and 47F of the FOI Act and disclosure of the documents would be contrary to 
the public interest under s 11A(5) of the FOI Act.   
 
Reasons 
In providing these reasons, I note that the decision letter dated 20 May 2022 includes the text 
of sections of the FOI Act and FOI Guidelines.  I do not propose to repeat the text in this 
internal review. 
Searches Undertaken 
Prior to the decision dated 20 May 2022, extensive searches were undertaken by staff of the 
Court to identify any documents falling within the scope of your request.  I have reviewed 
these searches and spoken to Court personnel who were involved in this process.  The process 
for undertaking the searches involved consultations with senior staff of the Court, searches of 
the Court’s human resources and recruitment inboxes, searches of staff emails, as well as 
searches of the Court’s human resources shared drive, the Court’s electronic documents, 
records management and information systems.  The searches utilised key words based on 
Court staff’s knowledge of document titling practices in the Court.  Staff engaged in 
extensive consultations to determine appropriate key word searches by reference to the 
description of the documents in your FOI request.   
 
I am satisfied that the searches undertaken were thorough and comprehensive.  I do not 
believe any further reasonable search or enquiry would find additional documents within the 
scope of your request.  I am satisfied that, other than the documents already found, no other 
documents exist or they cannot be found.   
 
Document is Conditionally Exempt 
I am of the view that the emails are conditionally exempt pursuant to ss 47C, 47E(c) and 47F 
of the FOI Act. 
1.  Section 47C of the FOI Act (documents subject to deliberative process) 
I am satisfied that the emails contain deliberative matter.  They set out an issue for 
consideration regarding the recruitment and appointment of a Registrar of the Court, 
contain opinions in relation to that issue, and proposals to address the issue.  
I have not considered if any harm would or could result from disclosure of the emails as 
this is not required.    

 

For the above reasons, I consider that disclosure of the emails is conditionally exempt 
under s 47C of the FOI Act. 
2.  Section 47E of the FOI Act (management or assessment of personnel) 
I am satisfied that disclosure of the emails would, or could reasonably be expected to 
have, a substantial adverse effect on the management or assessment of personnel by the 
Court (see s 47E(c) of the FOI Act). 
Management or assessment of personnel 
The emails relate to the management of personnel as explained in FOI Guideline 6.114.  
They relate to the recruitment and appointment of a Registrar of the Court.     
An effect would or could reasonably be expected following disclosure1 
An effect on the management of personnel would reasonably be expected following 
disclosure of the emails.  The emails record an exchange of opinions, proposals and 
deliberations in regard to the recruitment and appointment of a Registrar of the Court.        
The expected effect would be substantial and adverse2 
The expected effect of disclosing the emails would be both substantial and adverse on the 
management of personnel by the Court.  The disclosure of the emails would or could be 
expected to: 
  undermine the expectations of prospective and current Court employees regarding the 
protection of their privacy; 
  diminish trust in the confidentiality of the Court’s recruitment process.  This may in 
turn discourage prospective internal and external candidates from applying for 
positions and, ultimately, make it more difficult for the Court to attract candidates to 
positions in future; and  
  adversely impact the Court’s ability to frankly discuss the appropriate classification or 
composition of a position, leading to a deterioration of the rigour applied to the 
management of personnel.3 
These effects on the management of Court personnel are both substantial and adverse. 
                                                 
1 See FOI Guideline 6.113 
2 See FOI Guideline 6.113 
3 In Department of Social Security v Dyrenfurth (1988) ALD 232 at 238 it was held that the effects on the 
integrity of the system from disclosure of information regarding recruitment processes could reasonably be 
expected to give rise to a reduction in: 
  “candour and frankness in written reports, assessment and references” if there is a risk that these 
documents would not remain confidential, and  
  the “reliability and value” of documents and a greater emphasis on oral communication. 

 

For the reasons above, I consider that the emails are conditionally exempt under s 47E(c) 
of the FOI Act. 
3.  Section 47F of the FOI Act (personal privacy) 
I am satisfied that disclosure of the emails would involve the unreasonable disclosure of 
personal information (see s 47F(1) of the FOI Act). 
Personal information 
The emails contain personal information because each email includes information or an 
opinion about identified individuals (see definition of personal information in s 4(1) of 
the FOI Act).  The emails contain the names of people, personal opinions about a 
Registrar involved in a recent recruitment process, details of annual leave and the 
personal contact details of those people. 
Disclosure would be unreasonable4 
Disclosure of that information would be unreasonable because: 
  The information contained in the emails is not well known and is not available from 
publicly accessible sources.  The emails are confidential documents regarding a recent 
Registrar recruitment exercise and the classification or other composition of a 
Registrar position.      
  Disclosure of the information prejudices the right to privacy of the individuals 
identified in the documents and exposes them to unreasonable stress and anxiety.  The 
FOI request was made in the context of a series of reports in The Australian 
newspaper regarding the recruitment of Registrars to the Court.  The successful 
candidate for one of these positions was the subject of the article mentioned in the 
FOI request.  This article does not identify the Registrar by name.  If the emails were 
released, it would disclose the name of the Registrar concerned.  It would therefore 
link that person to the allegations in the article and expose them to the risk of having 
their personal details and circumstances of their recruitment with the Court being the 
subject of further media attention.   
  The stress and anxiety would likely be exacerbated because the FOI Act does not 
control or restrict any subsequent use or dissemination of information released under 
the FOI Act.5     
  The role of a Registrar of the Court is one of respect and trust.6  Persons who conduct 
this role should not be exposed to the risk of personal embarrassment that their 
                                                 
4 See generally Re Chandra and Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs [1984] AATA 437 at 259 and FG’ 
and National Archives of Australia 
[2015] AICmr 26 and Colakovski v Australian Telecommunications Corp 
5 See FOI Guideline 6.143 
6 Registrars perform statutory functions assigned to them by the Federal Court of Australia Act, Federal Court 
Rules 2011, Federal Court (Bankruptcy Rules) 2016 and the Federal Court (Corporations) Rules 2000


 

standing is compromised by media speculation on the circumstances of their 
recruitment and the terms of their employment. 
I am not satisfied that there is any presumption that the emails should be released merely 
because the personal information in them relates to officers of the Court and public 
servants.  The information contained in the documents is personal, confidential and 
sensitive in nature.     
While some of content of the emails has already been published by The Australian, I do 
not consider that precludes me from finding that the documents captured by the FOI 
request are unreasonable to disclose.  Relevantly, the decision of Re Jones and 
Commissioner of Taxation
 [2008] AATA 834 provides, at paragraph [11]: 
When considering whether it is reasonable or not to disclose personal information, I regard 
the fact that the information may be available from other sources as merely a matter to be 
taken into account.  
The information published in the articles has not been publicly disclosed, published or 
authorised by the Court.  In addition, the Court has not at any stage publicly commented 
on whether what was published in the articles is or is not an accurate reflection of the 
Court’s records.   
For the reasons above, I consider that the disclosure of the emails would involve the 
unreasonable disclosure of personal information.  Accordingly, I find that the documents 
are conditionally exempt under s 47F of the FOI Act. 
 
Public interest test 
As I have found that the emails are conditionally exempt, I must also consider whether it 
would be contrary to the public interest to give you access at this time (see s 11A(5) of the 
FOI Act).  I am satisfied that disclosure of the emails would be contrary to the public interest. 
I have taken into account the factors favouring access to the documents as set out in s 11B(3) 
of the FOI Act.  I accept that providing access to the document may: 
  increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Court’s recruitment 
activities and operations; and   
  inform debate on the Court’s recruitment activities.  
However, in the context where there has already been an investigation into the recruitment of 
Registrars by the Court pursuant to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, and there is an 
investigation underway by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into this earlier process, I find 
that only limited weight should be given to these factors.  It is difficult to see how provision 
of the emails through an FOI request could, in all the circumstances above, inform debate on 
a matter of public importance when these other independent and impartial investigation 
processes have been completed or are underway. 

 

There are several factors that weigh against a finding that it would be in the public interest to 
disclose such information.  Disclosure could reasonably be expected to:   
  prejudice the protection of a person’s right to privacy.  The emails contain a 
discussion in regard to the recruitment and appointment of a Registrar of the Court;   
  discourage prospective candidates from applying for roles with the Court due to a 
perception that the Court cannot keep information connected to a recruitment process 
confidential;  
  potentially harm the Registrar referred to in the emails by definitively linking them to 
the allegations and speculation in the newspaper article; and 
  likely adversely affect the mental health of that public servant by causing them 
distress and anxiety by identifying them as the subject of recent media coverage. 
I have weighed the factors for and against release of the documents.  I am satisfied that the 
factors in favour of disclosure are outweighed by the factors against disclosure.  I am 
therefore also satisfied that, at this time and in these circumstances, access to the documents 
is, on balance, contrary to the public interest. 
Deletion of exempt or irrelevant material 
Pursuant to s 22 of the FOI Act, I have redacted the irrelevant and exempt material from the 
emails.  However, having reviewed the redacted documents, I consider that the number of 
deletions are so many that the remaining documents would have no value to you.7  It would 
therefore serve no purpose to provide a redacted copy to you.  
Your review rights 
If you are dissatisfied with my decision, under section 54L of the FOI Act you may apply to 
the Australian Information Commissioner for review.  An application for review by the 
Information Commissioner must be made in writing within 60 days of the date of this letter.  
 
More information about Information Commissioner review is available on the Office of the 
Australian Information Commissioner website. Go to Information Commissioner review - 
Home (oaic.gov.au) 
 
Complaints 
 
If you are dissatisfied with the way the Court has handled your FOI request, you may 
complain to the Information Commissioner in writing.  There is no fee for making a 
complaint.  More information about making a complaint is available on the OAIC website, 
including a link to the online complaints form which the OAIC recommends using for 
complaints.  Go to Make an FOI complaint - Home (oaic.gov.au)  
                                                 
7 See FOI Guideline 3.98 

 


 
Yours sincerely 
 
 
 
Nicola Colbran 
National Judicial Registrar & 
District Registrar