Australian advocacy for transparency in World Health Organisation

Peter Timmins made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should normally have responded promptly and by (details)

From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
This is an application for documents created or received since Australia took a position on the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation in 2018 concerning the need for the organisation to be more independent and transparent, including briefs, reports, records of conversation, speeches or other documents sent to or sent from Australian representatives.

The request is prompted by the Minister's speech to the National Security College on 16 June where she referred to Australia's role in the WHO as an active and pragmatic voice, and to the importance of independence and transparency.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
FOI Reference: LEX2118

Dear Mr Timmins

Re: Freedom of Information (FOI) Request

Thank you for your e-mail dated 18 June 2020 in which you seek access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to:

“documents created or received since Australia took a position on the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation in 2018 concerning the need for the organisation to be more independent and transparent, including briefs, reports, records of conversation, speeches or other documents sent to or sent from Australian representatives.”

This e-mail sets out some information about how your request will be processed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Searches are now being undertaken in relevant areas of the Department for documents relevant to your request.

Scope of request:
If it emerges that the scope of your request is unclear or is too large for processing, the Department will contact you to discuss re-scoping the request.

Timeframe for receiving our decision:
We received your request on 18 June 2020, and the 30-day statutory period for processing your request commenced from the day after that date. You should therefore expect a decision from us by 20 July 2020. The period of 30 days may be extended in certain circumstances. We will advise you if any extension of time is required.

Charges:
Please note that the Department issues charges for processing FOI requests. We will advise you of these charges when we are in a position to estimate the resources required to process your request.

Timing of release:
As the subject matter of your request will require DFAT to upload any documents released to you to the Department’s FOI Disclosure Log, we take this opportunity to advise you that the Department’s policy is to upload documents to the disclosure log on the same day as the documents are released to you.

Exclusion of officials’ names and contact details:
It is the Department’s policy to withhold the mobile numbers of all government officials, and the names and contact details of government officials not in the Senior Executive Service (SES) or equivalent. If you require the mobile numbers of all government officials, or the names and contact details of non-SES officials, please let us know at [DFAT request email] so the decision-maker may consider; otherwise we will take it that you agree to that information being excluded from the scope of your request.

Personal Information:
If we need to consult with other people or organisations regarding your FOI request, we may need to disclose your personal information (e.g. your name). When we consult it may be apparent that you have made a request, even if we do not disclose your identity. Please let us know if you have any concerns in this regard. The Department’s privacy policy is available at dfat.gov.au/privacy.html.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us by return e-mail at [DFAT request email].

Yours sincerely

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Dear FOI,

Thank you for the acknowledgement.

Please note these responses to two matters raised:
. that the Department issues charges for processing FOI requests.
. the Department’s policy to withhold the names of non-SES officials.

Charges
The statement that 'the Department issues charges for processing requests' is a blanket statement that presumably applies to processing all requests.

Guidance issued by the Australian Information Commissioner and to which an agency must have regard states (Part 4) agencies may, if "an applicant requests access" decide to impose a charge or not impose a charge for the staff time and resources expended in processing an FOI request (s 8 of the Charges Regulations).

As the Guidance makes clear, there is no obligation to impose a charge.

As with any discretion, a decision to issue a charge or not issue a charge for processing the application must be undertaken fairly and reasonably, and as the guidance further stipulates requires consideration of the ‘lowest reasonable cost’ objective in s 3 of the act in deciding whether a charge is warranted.

In my submission, a charge for processing an application for documents that are relevant to a public assertion by the Minister about Australia's record of advocacy for a more independent and transparent WHO is not warranted.

The decision to issue charges for processing a request is separate from any later consideration of a contention by an applicant that a charge the agency may decide to issue be reduced or waived. (Guidance 4.19)

Names on non-SES officials
Names of officials of any rank are not excluded from the scope of the request.

The Departmental policy mentioned in the acknowledgment is inconsistent with Guidance issued by the Australian Information Commissioner (6.154)
"When considering whether it would be unreasonable to disclose the names of public servants, there is no basis under the FOI Act for agencies to start from the position that the classification level of a departmental officer determines whether his or her name would be unreasonable to disclose."

Any redaction of names of officials should be based on a claim for exemption.

Thank you.

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
FOI Reference: LEX2118

Dear Mr Timmins

Re: Freedom of Information (FOI) Request

I am writing in regards to your email dated 18 June 2020 in which you seek access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to:

“documents created or received since Australia took a position on the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation in 2018 concerning the need for the organisation to be more independent and transparent, including briefs, reports, records of conversation, speeches or other documents sent to or sent from Australian representatives.”

Preliminary enquiries to the relevant area of the department have found that this request more closely aligns with the portfolio responsibilities of the Department of Health. It is now open to you to withdraw your request and submit a new FOI request to the Department of Health.

Please let us know if you would like to withdraw your request by replying to this email by 12pm Friday, 3 July 2020.

Kind regards

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
I'm sure the suggestion made after preliminary enquiries to the relevant area of the department that I withdraw the application and make a fresh application to the Department of Health is meant to be helpful.

However given the remarks by Minister Payne to the National Security College on 16 June about the important role Australia has played in discussion about the WHO it would seem likely DFAT holds documents that may or may not be held by the Department of Health. Your message makes no mention of any such documents, or of any consultation with the Department of Health prior to making the suggestion about withdrawal.

The Guidance issued by the OAIC (3.57 and following) is that when an agency receives a request for documents some of which are in the possession of different agencies, Section 16 (3A) provides the agency may partially or wholly transfer the request that is then "notionally divided into different requests." Each agency "then has obligations to make their own response to the request in accordance with the Act."

Thank you for the suggestion but In the circumstances my request is not withdrawn.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


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OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2118

 

Dear Mr Timmins,

 

Please find attached the outcome of your FOI request.

 

Yours sincerely

 

DFAT FOI Team

[1]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[2]DFAT.GOV.AU | [3]Twitter | [4]Facebook | [5]Flickr | [6]YouTube

 

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Thank you for the message.
I was surprised, bearing in mind your earlier suggestion that I withdraw the application, that you hold 'thousands' of pages of documents that require review to process the request and this could involve the substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources, hence the request for consultation notice.

I see you weren’'t inclined to take up my suggestion to transfer part of the request to the Department of Health.

Not wanting to be unreasonable myself, I seek your help-the process outlined in Section 24 AB (3) and (4)- in revising the request so that it no longer presents a practical refusal reason.

I am seeking details of proposals put formally and informally by Australia to the WHO since we took up membership of the executive board in 2018 for reforms and initiatives to promote independence and transparency.

The speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 16 June was almost entirely about health diplomacy and includes many references to our role and interests in organisations including the WHO.

The minister for example said "Australia has, for many years, been an active and pragmatic voice in the WHO.”, "Australia wants to see a stronger WHO that is more independent and transparent”; "Australia will continue to work to ensure global institutions are fit-for-purpose, relevant, contemporary, accountable to member states, free from undue influence.. We will continue to support reform efforts in the United Nations and its agencies to improve transparency, accountability and effectiveness”; and "Effective multilateralism conducted through strong and transparent institutions serves Australia's interests.”
Thank you for the message.

I was surprised bearing in mind your earlier suggestion that I withdraw the application, that you have 'thousands' of pages of documents that require review to process the request and this could involve the substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources, hence the request for consultation notice.

I see you weren’'t inclined to take up my suggestion to transfer part of the request to the Department of Health.

Not wanting to be unreasonable myself, I seek your help-the process outlined in Section 24 AB (3) and (4)- in revising the request so that it no longer presents a practical refusal reason.

I am seeking details of proposals put formally and informally by Australia to the WHO since we took up membership of the executive board in 2018 for reforms and initiatives to promote independence and transparency.

The speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 16 June was almost entirely about health diplomacy and includes many references to our role and interests in organisations including the WHO.

The minister for example said "Australia has, for many years, been an active and pragmatic voice in the WHO.”, "Australia wants to see a stronger WHO that is more independent and transparent”; "Australia will continue to work to ensure global institutions are fit-for-purpose, relevant, contemporary, accountable to member states, free from undue influence.. We will continue to support reform efforts in the United Nations and its agencies to improve transparency, accountability and effectiveness”; and "Effective multilateralism conducted through strong and transparent institutions serves Australia's interests.”

The minister quoted the Prime Minister last year referring to the pursuit of our interests: “Australia cannot be an indifferent bystander to these events that impact our livelihoods, our safety and our sovereignty. We must, as we have done previously, cultivate, marshal and bring our influence to bear to protect and promote our national interests.”

So I’m looking to see what we have put forward along these lines in the last two years on the WHO Executive Board.

Hopefully this makes things easier for you but if not please provide me with any information that would assist me to revise the request. (Section 24AB (4) (b))

Cheers.

Peter Timmins

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Sorry- a bit of repetition through misplaced cut and pasting text in that last communication but I'm sure you can make sense of it

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
Dear Mr Timmins

Thank you for your email dated 13 July 2020 in response to our letter of 9 July 2020 in which we advised of the intention to provide a practical refusal in relation to your request for:

“documents created or received since Australia took a position on the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation in 2018 concerning the need for the organisation to be more independent and transparent, including briefs, reports, records of conversation, speeches or other documents sent to or sent from Australian representatives.”

In your email of 13 July, you stated that you are seeking:

“details of proposals put formally and informally by Australia to the WHO since we took up membership of the executive board in 2018 for reforms and initiatives to promote independence and transparency.”

We note your request for assistance to revise the request under section 24AB (3) and (4) of the FOI Act. You may wish to consider the following options when revising your request:
• Narrowing the date range; and
• Specifying the types of documents you’re requesting and/or narrowing the range of types of documents requested (e.g. agenda item briefs prepared to support Australia’s engagement in WHO Executive Board Meetings).

Please note that the consultation period of 14 days will end on 23 July 2020.

Please do not hesitate to contact me via email: [DFAT request email] if you have any questions about this consultation process.

Yours sincerely

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

+

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Thank you.
As mentioned in my message of 13 July the Minister Senator Payne in her speech on 16 June referred to Australia's active role in the WHO, that we have been a member of the Executive Board since 2018, and that we want to see a stronger organisation that is more independent and transparent.

I am not seeking copies of general statements along these lines by Australian representatives.

My revised request follows:

Documents including briefs and emails sent to or received from Australian officials that are instructions or reports on proposals for reform and initiatives to promote independence and transparency, put formally and informally to the WHO and secretariat since Australia became a member of the executive board in 2018.

One copy of each document not duplicates.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


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OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2118

 

Dear Mr Timmins

 

I refer to your request for access under the Freedom of Information Act
1982 to:

 

“Documents including briefs and emails sent to or received from Australian
officials that are instructions or reports on proposals for reform and
initiatives to promote independence and transparency, put formally and
informally to the WHO and secretariat since Australia became a member of
the executive board in 2018. One copy of each document not duplicates.”

 

I am writing to request an extension of time of 21 days to process the
request in accordance with section 15AA of the FOI Act. If you agree to
the extension, the revised due date for the request will be 19 August
2020. DFAT will endeavour to provide you with a decision in response to
the request by that date.

 

While the searches in relation to the request are being undertaken, the
department will be unable to finalise the request within the statutory
timeframe.

 

I appreciate this request is at short notice and I would be grateful if
you would please confirm your agreement to this request for an extension
by return email by 4pm today, 24 July 2020.

 

If you agree to my request for an extension, I will advise the Office of
the Australian Information Commissioner accordingly.

 

Of course, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in
touch.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

DFAT FOI Team

[1]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[2]DFAT.GOV.AU | [3]Twitter | [4]Facebook | [5]Flickr | [6]YouTube

 

[7]cid:image002.png@01D60752.779EB210

 

 

 

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


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OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2118

 

Dear Mr Timmins,

 

In reference to my earlier email requesting an extension of 21 days under
section 15AA of the FOI Act, please note that there was an error in
calculating the revised due date of your request should you agree to the
extension.

 

If you agree to the extension, the correct revised due date for the
request will be 18 August 2020. My apologies for the error.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

DFAT FOI Team

[1]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[2]DFAT.GOV.AU | [3]Twitter | [4]Facebook | [5]Flickr | [6]YouTube

 

[7]cid:image002.png@01D60752.779EB210

 

 

 

From: FOI
Sent: Friday, 24 July 2020 1:26 PM
To: Peter Timmins <[FOI #6414 email]>
Subject: FOI Request - Request for extension of time - 21 days to 19
August [SEC=OFFICIAL]

 

OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2118

 

Dear Mr Timmins

 

I refer to your request for access under the Freedom of Information Act
1982 to:

 

“Documents including briefs and emails sent to or received from Australian
officials that are instructions or reports on proposals for reform and
initiatives to promote independence and transparency, put formally and
informally to the WHO and secretariat since Australia became a member of
the executive board in 2018. One copy of each document not duplicates.”

 

I am writing to request an extension of time of 21 days to process the
request in accordance with section 15AA of the FOI Act. If you agree to
the extension, the revised due date for the request will be 19 August
2020. DFAT will endeavour to provide you with a decision in response to
the request by that date.

 

While the searches in relation to the request are being undertaken, the
department will be unable to finalise the request within the statutory
timeframe.

 

I appreciate this request is at short notice and I would be grateful if
you would please confirm your agreement to this request for an extension
by return email by 4pm today, 24 July 2020.

 

If you agree to my request for an extension, I will advise the Office of
the Australian Information Commissioner accordingly.

 

Of course, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in
touch.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

DFAT FOI Team

[8]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[9]DFAT.GOV.AU | [10]Twitter | [11]Facebook | [12]Flickr | [13]YouTube

 

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
I'm thinking someone must be very familiar with the relevant papers having gone through the materials in assisting with the Minister's speech

In the circumstances I agree to an extension of 10 days.

Thanks and sorry I missed that 4 o'clock deadline

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
By my reckoning we are in deemed refusal territory.
Please let me know where you think things stand

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
Dear Mr Timmins,

Thank you for your email.

The department acknowledges its ongoing obligation to provide a substantive decision to you as soon as possible. In order to finalise the outcome of your request, the department has requested an extension of time to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner under section 15AB of the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Carl English


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Our reference: RQ20/02961

Agency reference: LEX 2118

Mr Peter Timmins

Sent by email: [FOI #6414 email]

Extension of time application by the Department of Foreign Affairs and
Trade

Dear Mr Timmins

I write to advise that on 7 August 2020 the Office of the Australian
Information Commissioner (the OAIC) received an application from the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (the Department) for an extension
of time, to process your FOI request.

The Department has applied for an extension of time under s 15AB of the
Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) because your request is considered
to be voluminous and/or complex.

The Department has advised the OAIC that:

·      The Department will need to consider almost 400 pages

·      The Department considers that the request aligns more closely with
the portfolio responsibilities of the Department of Health. The Department
requested that the Department of Health accept the transfer of the
request. However the Department of Health did not agree to the request.

·      The Department will need to consult with the Department of Health
in relation to the request.

The Department has requested an extension to 7 September 2020. I will take
any comments you may have to make into account when deciding the
application.

Please respond to this email by close of business 13 August 2020. If I do
not hear from you by this date, I will proceed to make a decision on the
basis of the information provided to me by the Department

You will be notified of the decision once the matter has been finalised.

Further information about [1]extension of time requests may be found on
our website.

Contact

If you have any questions, please contact me on 02 9284 9745  or via email
[email address]. In all correspondence please include the
reference number at the top of this email.

Yours sincerely

[2][IMG]   Carl English  | Review Adviser (Legal)

Freedom of Information Dispute
Resolution

Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner

GPO Box 5218 Sydney NSW 2001  |
 [3]oaic.gov.au

+61 2 9284 9745  | 
[4][email address]
[5][IMG] | [6][IMG] | [7][IMG] |    

 

 

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear Carl English,
Thanks for the notification that DFAT has sought an extension of time.

This FOI application was lodged on 18 June.

I know it is difficult time for all of us but bring to your attention the back and forward since, available here on the Right to Know platform.

So far its been one thing after another and we still haven't got far.

This is after DFAT (unsuccessfully) asked me to withdraw the application, (unsuccessfully) asked Health to accept a transfer,reassessed what's involved from initially the examination of 'thousands of pages' to now 400 (which still surprises), sending a request for consultation, and asking me to agree to an extension of 21 days. I said yes to 10 days the same day they asked, 24 July.

Two weeks passed before they sought the 21 day extension from you on 7 August.

DFAT notified me on 10 August they had made the application. I haven't seen their application, but note you indicate to agencies that sending the applicant a copy is best practice and can speed things up.

I'm surprised an application for documents that support comments by the Minister in an important speech about Australia's role in the WHO is proving 'complex or voluminous', given that someone in DFAT must be very familiar with the topic and no doubt researched it in assisting the Minister beforehand.

It's been a while but reminds of this application to DFAT some years back when one document was eventually identified as relevant to an application said to be complex and voluminous during ten weeks from go to (unfortunately) woe.
http://foi-privacy.blogspot.com/2013/02/...

I'm in your hands.

Cheers.

Peter Timmins

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Peter Timmins left an annotation ()

I'm sure this run around is familiar to many who use this platform but it's been one process issue after another before we get far-or anywhere at all. There surely is a better more efficient and effective way to handle things.

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From: Carl English


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Attachment RQ20 02961 Extension of time under s 15AB.pdf
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Our reference: RQ20/02961

Agency reference: LEX2118

Mr Peter Timmins

 

Sent by email: [FOI #6414 email]

Extension of time under s 15AB

Dear Mr Timmins

Please find correspondence in relation to your FOI request to the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade attached.

Kind regards

[1][IMG]   Carl English  | Review Adviser (Legal)

Freedom of Information Dispute
Resolution

Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner

GPO Box 5218 Sydney NSW 2001  |
 [2]oaic.gov.au

+61 2 9284 9745  | 
[3][email address]
[4][IMG] | [5][IMG] | [6][IMG] |    

 

 

 

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Peter Timmins left an annotation ()

Extension of time.
I agreed to 10 days (not the 21 requested) which pushed things out to 7 August. Then along comes OAIC and grants a further extension of 30 days from 7 August to 7 September. So a 40 day extension all up. Patience is a virtue

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
The deadline was extended to 7 September so I'm wondering where things stand?

Yours faithfully,

Peter Timmins

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade only: