Administration of requests for information (policy documents)

Verity Pane made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Veterans' Affairs

The request was refused by Department of Veterans' Affairs.

From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Department of Veterans' Affairs,

I seek under administrative access in the first instance, but under FOI should DVA refuse to release administratively the following:
I am conducting a meta-analysis of various federal agencies, with respect to information access, and seek copy of amy internal Departmental policy documents/manuals regarding administration (including processing) of information access schemes, particularly with regards to requests from clients/customers the agency has flagged as "difficult", but not limited to such (to be clear I am seeking general policies/manuals, as well as any special policies/manuals for such clients/customers if they exist), that agency staff use as guidance/instruction to process such information access request (to be clear, only internal agency policies and manuals, not those from other agencies and entities such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner Guidelines).

I understand the Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs deals with the following information access schemes:
* Access under s 331 - Certain documents to be supplied on request (MRCA), and s 59 Certain documents to be supplied on request (SRCA)
* Administrative Access Scheme
* FOI Access

I also understand the Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs has a Unreasonable Complaint Conduct manual/policy that interacts with the above schemes and modifies those policies, so I seek copy of that too

To summarise I request copy of all DVA internal policies/manual (produced by DVA or paid for by DVA, for internal DVA use) that relate to the information access schemes the agency processes requests/applications for, including any policy or manual that may intersect and modify those policies/manuals, including the Unreasonable Complaint Conduct manual/policy.

How governments agencies, and particularly DVA given sensitivity over veterans entitlements management (especially in light of related issues in the Jesse Bird death, which were publicly reported in the media), manage information access legislation and requests is a significant public interest matter.

Yours faithfully,

Verity Pane

Link to this

From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Department of Veterans' Affairs,

Just a friendly reminder of the close proximity of the s 15(5)(a) statutory deadline for this request, to acknowledge and notify that this FOI application has been received and is being processed.

Yours faithfully,

Verity Pane

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Attachment Unreasonable complainant conduct a model policy and procedure Feb2013.pdf
344K Download View as HTML

Attachment GL Unreasonable Complainant Conduct Manual 2012 LR.PDF.pdf
1.4M Download View as HTML


Dear Verity Pane,

 

Thank you for your email of 10 September 2017 requesting administrative
access to the Department's internal policies and manuals relating to the
processing of information access requests.

 

FOI Manuals

 

The Department does not use an overall FOI manual.  Information regarding
access to information held by the Department is set out in [1]Fact Sheet
FIP01 - Access to Information for the assistance of members of the public.

 

I note that you have specifically excluded from your request materials
produced by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). 
While I have not provided these materials, the Department makes use of the
guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner under section
93A of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and other guidance materials
and resources issued by the OAIC (e.g. the OAIC’s FOI Guide, FOI
Factsheets and FAQs for agencies) in processing FOI applications.

 

The Department has a number of documents which relate to the operation of
its FOI matter management software, LEX.  As these documents relate to the
operation of the software rather than the processing of requests for
access to information, they do not appear to be relevant to your request. 

 

Unreasonable Complainant Conduct

 

You have also asked for a copy of other manuals/policies, including the
Department's 'Unreasonable Complaint Conduct' manual/policy.

 

The Department is guided by the NSW Ombudsman's Unreasonable Complainant
Conduct Manual, which I have attached a copy of.  The Department's
Unreasonable Complainant Conduct policy is based on the NSW Ombudsman's
model policy, which I have also attached a copy of.  The Department's
adaption of this policy is not a published document at this time as it is
currently undergoing its biennial internal review.

 

The Department also produces a document titled 'Individual Rights and
Mutual Responsibilities of the Parties to a Complaint’, which is available
on the Department's website at [2]https://www.dva.gov.au/contact/feedback.
This document may be of interest to you.

 

Access to documents

 

I note that you have sought access to the documents you have requested
under FOI should the Department be unwilling to release the documents on
an administrative basis.  With regard to some parts of your request, I
have identified that the Department does not hold relevant documents. 
With regard to other parts of your request, I have explained that what
documents the Department has may not be useful for your 'meta-analysis'. 
How you wish to proceed is a matter for you to decide; the Department is
happy to receive any further queries you may have.  Should you wish to
make a formal FOI request, please indicate clearly that this is the case -
a request contingent on some other event (e.g. 'should DVA to release
administratively' certain documents) may not meet the requirements of the
Act.

 

Kind regards,

 

Vicki Guthrie

Senior Legal Officer

Information Law

Legal Services & Assurance Branch

Department of Veterans’ Affairs | [3]www.dva.gov.au

 

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

This is a disappointing and substandard response to my FOI application.

Firstly, agencies, when identifying whether access may be given via administrative release, do so within the processing of an FOI application (whether or not it envisages such access), generally forwarding the information/copy of records to the Applicant and asking them whether the information/copy of documents provided satisfies their request, and invites them to vary or withdraw the FOI if it does.

It is not treated as a stand alone process, unless the application only sought administrative access (which is typically not the case, as usually the option to provide access administratively is made as part of an FOI request).

In terms of the FOI application made by me, I provided for DVA to *concurrently* consider whether access to the documents within scope of the FOI application as made could be provided under administative release in lieu of FOI, not as a staged staggered consideration process, where DVA ignored the FOI application and treated the application as one for administrative access only (to which no deadlines apply), to force the applicant to re-apply under FOI if the administrative release by the agency did not satisfy the scope the application (which it does not here).

As your administrative release did not match any of the scope of the FOI application (providing only documents from a third party NSW agency, and a link to a publicly available factsheet that has no relevance to the internal DVA documents/manuals sought in the scope of the FOI as made), the FOI application remains extant, and the statutory due date still remains Tuesday 10 October as you have provided me with no reason to vary or withdraw this FOI application (due to the irrelevance of that you released under administrative access).

Secondly, to restate the scope of the FOI application as made by me previously (which you have misinterpreted clearly), it was:
***
[I] seek copy of amy internal Departmental policy documents/manuals regarding administration (including processing) of information access schemes, particularly with regards to requests from clients/customers the agency has flagged as "difficult", but not limited to such (to be clear I am seeking general policies/manuals, as well as any special policies/manuals for such clients/customers if they exist), that agency staff use as guidance/instruction to process such information access request (to be clear, only internal agency policies and manuals, not those from other agencies and entities such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner Guidelines).

I understand the Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs deals with the following information access schemes:
* Access under s 331 - Certain documents to be supplied on request (MRCA), and s 59 Certain documents to be supplied on request (SRCA)
* Administrative Access Scheme
* FOI Access

I also understand the Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs has a Unreasonable Complaint Conduct manual/policy that interacts with the above schemes and modifies those policies, so I seek copy of that too.

To summarise I request copy of all DVA internal policies/manual (produced by DVA or paid for by DVA, for internal DVA use) that relate to the information access schemes the agency processes requests/applications for, including any policy or manual that may intersect and modify those policies/manuals, including the Unreasonable Complaint Conduct manual/policy.
***

This means that publicly available documents, documents not authored or produced by DVA for internal use, and anything else not specifically mentioned is outside the scope of the FOI as made and is irrelevant to the processing of this request.

Note that I also did not specifically ask for drafts of any internal policies or internal manuals, or any agency correspondence about the delevopment or refinement or review of any such internal policies or manuals.

In terms of the FOI Act, the fact that an agency may seek to review, or is reviewing, a document that falls within scope of an FOI request, is not an exemption provided for by the FOI Act, and therefore your claim that it is an internal policy manual that cannot be released deserves some criticism (please identity a valid exemption section of the FOI Act, if one exists). As you say, DVA has its own policy/manual (it’s irrelevant that it may be based on another external policy/manual), as referenced by your statement that the internal policy/manual is currently undergoing a biannual review. It therefore falls within scope, specifically any part dealing with handling FOI requests from those that DVA classifies as UCC.

I find it somewhat questionable that DVA claims it has no internal policy or manual of its own to guide DVA’s FOI delegates in their duties, which is what you have inferred. I would ask you to do a proper search for documents and confirm if that is indeed the case.

Thank you for your mention of LEX, that is outside the scope of this FOI application (unless it gives guidance to DVA FOI delegates on how to process information access requests such as FOI), but I may put in a seperate request for it if there is no other documents.

I would encourage DVA to process this application properly, and not continue going down this regrettable path. I also think I am best suited to determine what documents are relevant to my meta-analysis, given its my thesis, don’t you.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

I note the following from ANAO Report No.8 2017–18 - Administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance... that DVA does not have a manual or other consolidated guidance material, which contains administrative procedural instructions and/or policy and procedural guidance to help ensure consistency of FOI process and practice across the agency (which ANAO was critical of).

That therefore just leaves any section of the UCC manual that deals with FOI requests.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

A reminder this FOI request is due shortly, and that the publicly available documents you sent administratively, that did not fall within the scope of the FOI made, have not varied or changed this FOI application.

I would encourage Veterans’ Affairs to met its statutory obligations as specified in the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

A reminder this FOI is due tomorrow, it has not been withdrawn or varied, as the documents provided administratively were not relevant to the scope of the FOI Application (and were publicly available documents, to which the FOI does not apply, as well).

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Dear Verity Pane

I acknowledge receipt of your emails dated 21 September, 26 September, 5 October and 9 October 2017. I note that your email dated 26 September 2017 narrowed the scope of your request to "any section of the Unreasonable Complainant Conduct manual that deals with FOI requests".

The Department makes use of the NSW Ombudsman’s Unreasonable Complainant Conduct manual, which you were provided with on 21 September 2017. The Department does not have its own Unreasonable Complainant Conduct manual. No section of the Department’s Unreasonable Complainant Conduct Policy deals with FOI requests.

I trust this information is of use to you. Please advise if the Department can assist you further.

Regards

Vicki Guthrie
Senior Legal Officer
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

Thank you for your belated response. If it was misunderstood that sections dealing with information access requests (as the scope and subject of the FOI made was) was relevant with regards to the manual, then I regret your misunderstanding (the scope has not changed, but it appears it was clarified for you).

I must admit I am confused however, with your latest response. Your earlier response claimed access could not be given because “The Department's adaption of this policy [a NSW Ombudsman report] is not a published document at this time as it is currently undergoing its biennial internal review” [which is not an exemption ground recognised in the FOI Act], but your current response is that no such manual or adaption exists, and no section dealing with FOI requests exists. [although anecdotally it appears some reference in DVA FOI responses refers to the existence of such a document that impacts on such requests]

If, as now claimed, no such manual or policy exists, why was it referred to as being in existence previously - how do you have a biennial internal review, as previously claimed, of a policy/manual not in existence? It’s all very silly on one hand, or potentially fraudulent misrepresentation on the other.

For that reason I am going to ask you to confirm again, that the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs has no internal manual or policy document regarding the management of information access applications by clients and/or members of the public (despite being one of the largest FOI application receivers, as stated in the recent ANAO report), in any form?

Considering the volume of FOI applications dealt with by Veterans’ Affairs, the inference that no formal document of DVA’s exists regarding how processing and management of such applications are to be dealt with, and that it’s all ad hoc word of mouth guidance is concerning indeed. This does need confirmation.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

Link to this

From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

In your response of 10 October 2017, you claim the Department does not have its own UCC manual. Can you explain to me why I have come across a flowchart on a website, which purports to be from DVA’s UCC manual, outlining the steps involved in DVA classifying clients as UCC (I checked the NSW Ombudsman manual and there is nothing like it in it, and that document is clearly marked “Management of UCC” and has DVA references all over it).

I don’t appreciate being deliberately mislead.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

Link to this

From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Department of Veterans' Affairs,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

Since your agency officer continues to ignore the issues raised with your agency’s response on 10th and 17th October 2017, and that this FOI received deemed refusal, I am writing to request an internal review of Department of Veterans' Affairs's handling of my FOI request 'Administration of requests for information (policy documents)'.

Your agency officer ignored the earlier issues regarding its initial claims that the UCC manual referred to was “under review” and therefore exempt from FOI (false), then subsequently claimed it didn’t exist, yet an extract was subsequently found on a public website.

This is a ludicrous series of responses from your agency, that point to fraudulent misrepresentation, and is frankly completely unnecessary.

Should the agency continue to deal inappropriately with this FOI, a s 70 FOI Act complaint will be made, so I therefore encourage your agency to deal with this internal review properly (like it should have with the original FOI in the first place).

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a...

Yours faithfully,

Verity Pane

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From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Attachment 17.10.23 Decision.pdf
396K Download View as HTML


Dear Verity Pane

 

I acknowledge receipt of your emails dated 10 October 2017, 17 October
2017 and 23 October 2017.

 

Your correspondence dated 10 September 2017 seeking access to “internal
departmental policy documents/manual regarding the administration
(including processing) of information access schemes” and “the
Unreasonable Complainant Conduct manual/policy” was initially processed as
a request for administrative access.  In light of your recent
correspondence, I have decided to treat your email dated 21 September 2017
as a request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.  The decision in
this matter is due today.  Please find attached a decision in regard to
this request.

 

By email dated 17 October 2017, you ask “… why I have come across a
flowchart on a website, which purports to be from DVA’s UCC manual …”.  If
you are referring to the flowchart headed “Management of Unreasonable
Complainant Conduct”,  the flowchart is guidance provided to departmental
staff and does not form part of a departmental Unreasonable Complainant
Conduct manual. 

 

Your email received earlier this morning seeks internal review of a deemed
decision.  As the attached decision is due today, the department does not
consider there to be a deemed refusal of your request. If you wish to seek
review of the attached FOI decision, your review rights are set out at
pages 3-4 of the decision.

 

Regards

 

Vicki

 

Vicki Guthrie

Assistant Director
Information Law

Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | [1]www.dva.gov.au

 

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

Your understanding of the FOI Act is incorrect. Administrative Access is a diversion scheme, but does not substitute or replace an FOI application. Athens relevant date is the date the FOI application was made, it cannot be considered “deferred” or withdrawn if the agency does not provide the documentation requested under administrative access if the application is made jointly.

You refused to provide any document that met the scope of the FOI request, in your “administrative release” claiming an exemption applied because the documents were “under review” (still not a valid exemption ground] therefore the FOI application made on 10 September remained extant, it was not made afresh at the later date you now seek to claim (nor was it varied or amended).

You claim that the referred to document is not part of the DVA UCC manual but a standalone document is untenable, given the document in question is clearly marked an an annex to the DVA UCC manual you first claimed could not be provided because it was “under review”, the subsequently claimed did not exist.

Under deemed refusal, the agency remains obligated to process the FOI, even when review is ongoing as a result of the deemed refusal.

This antics do your agency no credit. The internal review is still extant, and is not changed by this out of time decision you provided today.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

This agency’s conduct here is best described as high farce - first the document exists, then it doesn’t, then when part of it is found on a public website, it’s not that document (despite being clearly marked as such).

A simple request has now gotten ridiculously complex. It does make me wonder what is so contentious in this manual that DVA would repeatedly make false statements about it, just to prevent its release. It may be it connected with the Jesse Bird death, as it’s the only reason I can think of why such a pantomime is currently being conducted by this agency (I can’t recall another occasion where I’ve been told a document exists, but it can’t be released because it’s being reviewed, then it’s claimed it doesn’t exist, and then when confronted with its existence, confirms the partial extract but claims it comes from something else, despite being prominently labeled as an annex to the document in question).

I guess this highlights the abuses of the FOI Act that increasingly seem to be going on these days.

Link to this

From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Vicki,

A reminder DVA has failed to acknowledge as yet the internal review application of your access refusal decision, following deemed refusal.

Generally acknowledgement is supposed to happen within 14 days.

I would encourage DVA to handle FOI matters responsively and consistent with good practice, even if DVA’s history here is infamous.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Attachment 17 11 21 Internal review decision.pdf
439K Download View as HTML


Dear Verity Pane

Please find attached correspondence in regard to your request for internal review.

Kind regards

Anne Anastasi
A/g Director
Information Law
Legal Services & Assurance Branch
Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Yet again DVA continues with this fiction that the manual they originally claimed couldn’t be released because it was under “review”, then later claimed didn’t exist, but which extracts of which were found on a public website (Annexes from said manual), supporting that it does exist (as originally claimed by DVA, before it backtracked when challenged over the invalid exemption claim).

Honestly, you have to wander what is so contraversial in this manual that the Department makes such misrepresentations and outright lies about.

ANAO was clearly right in that there are issues unresolved with DVA’s FOI management

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From: Verity Pane

Delivered

Dear Anne,

First your department claims it’s own DVA UCC manual couldn’t be released because it was “under review” (and there was no claim made you were reviewed a manual of another organisation, it was clearly claimed DVA had it’s own manual here).

And then when challenged on the basis that a document being under review is not a valid exemption claim, the claim is made by DVA that it relates to some other document by some other agency (not even Commonwealth) than previously claimed, which is a public document anyway and therefore the FOI Act doesn’t apply. That document had nothing to do with the scope of the FOI made, nor the previous claim by DVA.

Subsequently it appeared that parts of the DVA manual that is called your UCC manual have been uploaded to a file share service, and are clearly marked an annexes to a DVA UCC manual (no mention of the NSW Ombudsman in them at all, just references to DVA positions and flowcharts outlining actions).

But you still claim this manual, previously claimed by your agency to be under it’s routine review, doesn’t exist.

I mean, it’s just high farce isn’t it.

While this cover up is likely to be connected to all this the sensitivity surrounding the Jesse Bird death and DVA’s culpability in that, you can’t just subvert FOI laws to avoid your obligations because your are trying to spin some current political difficulties http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-14/je...

Really, it’s beyond a joke. Hopefully whoever is releasing parts of the manual you continue to claim doesn’t exist, after initially confirming it’s existence, will go the whole hog, and I don’t have to continue having DVA tell such bald faced lies (I can just go around you). Seems one of your employees is giving far more transperency than the FOI section, which isn’t hard given how ridiculous you’ve become.

Yours sincerely,

Verity Pane

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Veterans' Affairs only: