COVID Measures for Brisbane Office

The request was partially successful.

Dear Department of Veterans' Affairs,

For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, I seek copy of any Department of Veterans' Affairs official document (including emails), that directs workforce changes take place within the Information Law area (who are based in the Brisbane office) due to COVID-19 (or similar reference to COVID or coronavirus).

I also seek copy of the COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent) for the Information Law section in the Brisbane office of the Department, or if they have no such COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent), copy of the COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent)for the Brisbane office of the Department. If neither have a COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent), then I seek copy of the Department's COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent).

I understand that a few Department staff members within the health policy areas of the Department have been diverted to other areas as a result of COVID, but my enquiries have not shown that any of the Department's legal areas such as the Information Law area have been impacted by any such diversion of resources, and that the Departmental changes made for COVID in the Brisbane office have been insignificant.

Sincerely

Julie

INFORMATION.ACCESS, Department of Veterans' Affairs

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National Information Access Processing

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Phone: 1800 555 254

[1]www.dva.gov.au/about-us/our-business-reporting/freedom-information

References

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INFORMATION.LAW, Department of Veterans' Affairs

1 Attachment

Dear Julie,

 

I refer to your request for access to documents held by the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs (Department) under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
(Cth) (FOI Act).

 

Your request was received by the Department on 7 December 2020 and was
made in the following terms:

 

‘…For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, I seek copy of any
Department of Veterans' Affairs official document (including emails), that
directs workforce changes take place within the Information Law area (who
are based in the Brisbane office) due to COVID-19 (or similar reference to
COVID or coronavirus).

 

I also seek copy of the COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent) for the
Information Law section in the Brisbane office of the Department, or if
they have no such COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent), copy of the
COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent)for the Brisbane office of the
Department. If neither have a COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent),
then I seek copy of the Department's COVID Safe Business Plan (or
equivalent).

 

I understand that a few Department staff members within the health policy
areas of the Department have been diverted to other areas as a result of
COVID, but my enquiries have not shown that any of the Department's legal
areas such as the Information Law area have been impacted by any such
diversion of resources, and that the Departmental changes made for COVID
in the Brisbane office have been insignificant…’

 

The Department has 30 days to finalise your request. The 30 day statutory
timeframe commenced the day after your request was received by the
Department.

 

Ordinarily you should expect a decision from the Department by 6 January
2020.

 

Interrupted work practices impacted by COVID-19

 

The Department is continuing to work through its FOI case load as quickly
as possible. However, the Department is and will continue to experience an
interruption in the way it will be able to manage FOI requests. As you are
likely to be aware, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has been declared a pandemic by
the World Health Organisation. As the Department focuses its efforts on
managing the impact of COVID-19 on its critical services and employees,
other non-critical services may not be delivered within expected
timeframes. It is possible that during this time, business areas that
would ordinarily have capacity to undertake searches and assist in the
processing of FOI requests may not be readily available to provide that
assistance. This may have an impact on the manner and timeframe in which
the Department can process FOI requests.

 

We apologise for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience during
this period.

 

When the processing period may be extended or suspended

 

As noted above, there are times when the timeframe for processing your
request might be extended by an additional 30 days. This can occur where
an extension of time has been agreed to by yourself under section 15AA of
the FOI Act or where the OAIC has granted an extension of time under
sections 15AB or 15AC of the FOI Act. In addition, if documents you seek
contain information of third parties and the Department is of the view
that is practical to consult with the third parties, then the Department
will be afforded an additional 30 days to undertake that consultation
process (see sections 15(6), 26A, 27 and 27A of the FOI Act).

 

The Department will advise you if a third party consultation process is
required and of the revised due date for your request to be finalised by.

 

Communication with you

 

The FOI Act requires that you provide us with an address which we can send
notices to.  You have advised your electronic address is
[1][FOI #6956 email]. We will send all notices
and correspondence to this address.  Please advise us if you wish
correspondence to be sent to another address or if your address changes. 
If you do not advise us of changes to your address, correspondence and
notices will continue to be sent to the address specified above.

 

FOI Disclosure log – Publication of documents released under the FOI Act

 

Please note that information released under the FOI Act may be published
in a disclosure log on the Department’s website at
[2]https://www.dva.gov.au/about-us/overview...
Section 11C of the FOI Act requires this publication, however it is
subject to certain exceptions, including where publication of personal,
business, professional or commercial information would be unreasonable.

 

When a decision is provided to you, the Department will advise if the
documents released to you will be published on the Department’s FOI
Disclosure log.

 

Contacting us about your FOI request

 

We will email again when the Department has more information. Should you
have any enquiries concerning this matter, please send an email to
[3][email address].

 

Further information on FOI processing can be found at the website of the
OAIC at [4]https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-infor....

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Famida (Position Number 62212449)

Information Access Officer

Information Law Section

Legal Services and Audit Branch

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

t 1800 555 254 | e [5][email address] | [6]www.dva.gov.au

p GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601

[7]cid:image001.png@01D0027A.1DAB84F0

P Please consider the environment before printing this email

 

show quoted sections

INFORMATION.LAW, Department of Veterans' Affairs

1 Attachment

Good morning Julie,

 

FOI 39652 – Extension of time under s15AA of the FOI Act

 

I refer to your FOI request for access to the following:

 

‘…For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, I seek copy of any
Department of Veterans' Affairs official document (including emails), that
directs workforce changes take place within the Information Law area (who
are based in the Brisbane office) due to COVID-19 (or similar reference to
COVID or coronavirus).

 

I also seek copy of the COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent) for the
Information Law section in the Brisbane office of the Department, or if
they have no such COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent), copy of the
COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent)for the Brisbane office of the
Department. If neither have a COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent),
then I seek copy of the Department's COVID Safe Business Plan (or
equivalent).

 

I understand that a few Department staff members within the health policy
areas of the Department have been diverted to other areas as a result of
COVID, but my enquiries have not shown that any of the Department's legal
areas such as the Information Law area have been impacted by any such
diversion of resources, and that the Departmental changes made for COVID
in the Brisbane office have been insignificant…’

 

I am writing to seek your agreement to an extension of time (EOT) under
s15AA of the FOI Act to process this request. As you may be aware, many
government Departments, including DVA, shut down over the Christmas and
New Year period. This will mean that we have less time available to
process your request and to undertake the usual clearance processes.

 

Your request is currently due on 6 January 2020. I am seeking your
agreement to a seven (7) day EOT which would mean a decision on your
request is due on 13 January 2021.

 

I would be grateful if let me know by COB 23 December 2020 if you agree to
this EOT.

 

Kind regards

Jo

 

Jo (Position Number 62210326)

Assistant Director

Information Law Section

Legal Services and Audit Branch

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

t 1800 555 254 | e [1][email address]  | [2]www.dva.gov.au

p GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601

[3]cid:image001.png@01D0027A.1DAB84F0

P Please consider the environment before printing this email

IMPORTANT:  This document contains legal advice and may be subject to
legal professional privilege. Unless it is waived or lost, legal
professional privilege is a rule of law that, in part, provides that the
client need not disclose confidential communications between a legal
practitioner and client. To keep this privilege, the purpose and content
of this advice must only be disclosed to persons who have a need to know
and on the basis that those persons also keep it confidential.

You should consider this advice and take it into account when forming a
decision on how best to proceed. If you decide to adopt a position that
does not align with this advice, you should not state that DVA Legal
Services & Audit Branch has cleared or endorsed a particular position.

 

From: INFORMATION.LAW <[email address]>
Sent: Monday, 7 December 2020 4:07 PM
To: '[FOI #6956 email]'
<[FOI #6956 email]>
Cc: INFORMATION.LAW <[email address]>
Subject: Acknowledgement of your Freedom of Information (FOI) Request –
FOI 39652 [SEC=OFFICIAL]

 

Dear Julie,

 

I refer to your request for access to documents held by the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs (Department) under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
(Cth) (FOI Act).

 

Your request was received by the Department on 7 December 2020 and was
made in the following terms:

 

‘…For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, I seek copy of any
Department of Veterans' Affairs official document (including emails), that
directs workforce changes take place within the Information Law area (who
are based in the Brisbane office) due to COVID-19 (or similar reference to
COVID or coronavirus).

 

I also seek copy of the COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent) for the
Information Law section in the Brisbane office of the Department, or if
they have no such COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent), copy of the
COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent)for the Brisbane office of the
Department. If neither have a COVID Safe Business Plan (or equivalent),
then I seek copy of the Department's COVID Safe Business Plan (or
equivalent).

 

I understand that a few Department staff members within the health policy
areas of the Department have been diverted to other areas as a result of
COVID, but my enquiries have not shown that any of the Department's legal
areas such as the Information Law area have been impacted by any such
diversion of resources, and that the Departmental changes made for COVID
in the Brisbane office have been insignificant…’

 

The Department has 30 days to finalise your request. The 30 day statutory
timeframe commenced the day after your request was received by the
Department.

 

Ordinarily you should expect a decision from the Department by 6 January
2020.

 

Interrupted work practices impacted by COVID-19

 

The Department is continuing to work through its FOI case load as quickly
as possible. However, the Department is and will continue to experience an
interruption in the way it will be able to manage FOI requests. As you are
likely to be aware, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has been declared a pandemic by
the World Health Organisation. As the Department focuses its efforts on
managing the impact of COVID-19 on its critical services and employees,
other non-critical services may not be delivered within expected
timeframes. It is possible that during this time, business areas that
would ordinarily have capacity to undertake searches and assist in the
processing of FOI requests may not be readily available to provide that
assistance. This may have an impact on the manner and timeframe in which
the Department can process FOI requests.

 

We apologise for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience during
this period.

 

When the processing period may be extended or suspended

 

As noted above, there are times when the timeframe for processing your
request might be extended by an additional 30 days. This can occur where
an extension of time has been agreed to by yourself under section 15AA of
the FOI Act or where the OAIC has granted an extension of time under
sections 15AB or 15AC of the FOI Act. In addition, if documents you seek
contain information of third parties and the Department is of the view
that is practical to consult with the third parties, then the Department
will be afforded an additional 30 days to undertake that consultation
process (see sections 15(6), 26A, 27 and 27A of the FOI Act).

 

The Department will advise you if a third party consultation process is
required and of the revised due date for your request to be finalised by.

 

Communication with you

 

The FOI Act requires that you provide us with an address which we can send
notices to.  You have advised your electronic address is
[4][FOI #6956 email]. We will send all notices
and correspondence to this address.  Please advise us if you wish
correspondence to be sent to another address or if your address changes. 
If you do not advise us of changes to your address, correspondence and
notices will continue to be sent to the address specified above.

 

FOI Disclosure log – Publication of documents released under the FOI Act

 

Please note that information released under the FOI Act may be published
in a disclosure log on the Department’s website at
[5]https://www.dva.gov.au/about-us/overview...
Section 11C of the FOI Act requires this publication, however it is
subject to certain exceptions, including where publication of personal,
business, professional or commercial information would be unreasonable.

 

When a decision is provided to you, the Department will advise if the
documents released to you will be published on the Department’s FOI
Disclosure log.

 

Contacting us about your FOI request

 

We will email again when the Department has more information. Should you
have any enquiries concerning this matter, please send an email to
[6][email address].

 

Further information on FOI processing can be found at the website of the
OAIC at [7]https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-infor....

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Famida (Position Number 62212449)

Information Access Officer

Information Law Section

Legal Services and Audit Branch

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

t 1800 555 254 | e [8][email address] | [9]www.dva.gov.au

p GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601

[10]cid:image001.png@01D0027A.1DAB84F0

P Please consider the environment before printing this email

 

show quoted sections

Dear Jo,

In considering your request for an extension of time (EOT) under section 15AA of the FOI Act to process this FOI, I had regard to the following evidence:

* The Department has abused, routinely, extensions of time given to it in the past (both recently and historically);

* The Department's website does not state the Department is "shut down over the Christmas and New Year period", contrary to your claim, but it does note that some services may be reduced between "25 December 2020 through to 3 January 2021" (APS leave statistics do not support your claim that the Department, or other agencies, cease all operations during this period - it is a 'reduced activity period' for some though);

* The Department has been on notice about this FOI for some weeks before this short reduced service period was to occur; and

* It would not be unusual to expect agencies to manage FOIs around public holidays and weekends as a matter of course.

There is no evidence before me that the Department has made any attempt to process the FOI during the time already provided, and the Department has in the past, after receiving a section 15AA extension, only has gone on to seek a section 15AB extension, to create further artificial delay, that did not result in any comprehensive or suitable decision in return.

The Department's abuse of EOTs is a highly relevant factor, as is the reasonable expectation that Christmas is not a surprise to the Department and the Department would manage its processes accordingly. A last minute EOT extension does not reflect that.

Logically your EOT request is untenable, but given the response date falls mid-week, I will grant extension until the Friday (8 January 2020), which given the unimpaired time you've already for processing, is very generous of me.

Sincerely

Julie

INFORMATION.LAW, Department of Veterans' Affairs

4 Attachments

Dear Julie

 

FOI 39652 – Decision and documents

 

Please find attached the statement of reasons and two (2) documents
identified as falling within the scope of your request.

 

Regards

Jo

 

Jo (Position Number 62210326)

Assistant Director

Information Law Section

Legal Services and Audit Branch

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

t 1800 555 254 | e [1][email address]  | [2]www.dva.gov.au

p GPO Box 9998, Canberra ACT 2601

[3]cid:image001.png@01D0027A.1DAB84F0

P Please consider the environment before printing this email

IMPORTANT:  This document contains legal advice and may be subject to
legal professional privilege. Unless it is waived or lost, legal
professional privilege is a rule of law that, in part, provides that the
client need not disclose confidential communications between a legal
practitioner and client. To keep this privilege, the purpose and content
of this advice must only be disclosed to persons who have a need to know
and on the basis that those persons also keep it confidential.

You should consider this advice and take it into account when forming a
decision on how best to proceed. If you decide to adopt a position that
does not align with this advice, you should not state that DVA Legal
Services & Audit Branch has cleared or endorsed a particular position.

 

show quoted sections

Julie left an annotation ()

"Despite the reasonable searches undertaken, the Department has been unable to identify documents relevant to part one of your request, specifically documents (including emails) that direct workforce changes to take place within the Information Law team [as a result of COVID]"

In short, consistent with prior evidence, there have been no changes to the capacity of the Information Law area to deal with information requests as a result of COVID (not that this has stopped them from fraudulently claiming such as a excuse for delays).