Group Certificates/PAYG payment summaries of the ABS’ SES staff - FY2013/14, FY2014/15 and FY2015/16

Name withheld made this Freedom of Information request to Australian Bureau of Statistics

The request was refused by Australian Bureau of Statistics.

From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Australian Bureau of Statistics,

The following is an application for the purposes of the FOI Act.

I am conducting research, across a range of Government agencies, into the Government's enterprise bargaining framework for the Commonwealth Public Service. Specifically, in the interests of equity and transparency, whether the Government's policy to reduce the living standards of rank and file public servants (that is, public servants who are not considered senior executive service staff ('SES')) also extends to SES public servants.

Accordingly, I request documents which detail the precise monies paid to each of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS') SES officers in the following financial years - FY2013/14, FY 2014/15 and FY2015/16. The group certificates/end-of-year PAYG payments summaries issued by the ABS to each of its SES staff in those years can be quickly and easily identified and retrieved, and will efficiently and accurately provide the information the subject of my request.

I am willing to agree to the decision maker redacting information relating to the tax file numbers, the home addresses and information relating to the amount of tax withheld for each of the relevant SES officers that may be contained in the relevant documents. I am willing to further narrow the scope of my request by limiting it to officers employed by the ABS who, at the time of my application, were categorised as SES officers, meaning that:
- ABS staff who were once SES officers at the ABS, but weren’t categorised as such at the time of this application; and
- the documents the subject of my request that pertain to SES officers who are no longer employed by the ABS;
are discounted from the scope of my application.

I make the following submissions in support of my application.

The precise remuneration paid to public servants for performing public duties is a matter of wide and countervailing public interest. That is established by authority including that set out in Re Ricketson and Royal Women’s Hospital (1989) 4 VAR 10; Re Forbes and Department of Premier & Cabinet (1993) 6 VAR 53; Re Stewart and Department of Transport (1993) 1 QAR 227; Re Thwaites and Metropolitan Ambulance Service (unreported, 13 June 1997); Re Milthorpe and Mt. Alexander Shire Council (1997) 12 VAR 105; Re National Tertiary Education Industry Union (Murdoch Branch) and Murdoch University; Ors [2001] WAICmr 1 and Asher and Department of State and Regional Development [2002] VCAT 609.

In Re Forbes, Deputy President Ball said (at page 60):
"Mr Baxter is a senior public servant performing very significant public functions and being paid wholly from money provided by the public. The public is entitled to know precisely how much of its money is received in salary and entitlements by senior public servants for performing functions on behalf of the public."

In Re Stewart, at pp.257-258, the Information Commissioner observed:
"It has been held […] that there is a general public interest in seeing how the taxpayers' money is spent which is sufficient to justify the disclosure of the gross income payable from the public purse to the holder of a public office. […] see [Re Ricketson and Royal Women's Hospital (1989) 4 VAR 10, and Re Forbes and Department of the Premier and Cabinet (1993) 6 VAR 53]."

In Re National Tertiary Education Industry Union, the Commissioner observed (at [68]):
"I recognise that there is a public interest in the public receiving value for its money spent on public education, especially in the present climate of financial restrictions. I agree with the Tribunal in Re Ricketson and Re Forbes that the public is entitled to know how much of its money is received in salary and entitlements by senior public officers for performing functions on behalf of the public and that such information is the subject of legitimate public interest and discussion."

In Asher, Deputy President McNamara stated:
"The total remuneration paid to senior public officers has been, and continues to be, a matter of public concern and public debate. The authorities referred to above indicate the fact that the taxpayers ultimately meet the remuneration gives them a legitimate interest in this matter, even although it is one that it is clearly a matter relative to the personal affairs to the officers themselves. As Mr Edwards notes, his actions as Secretary must ultimately be regulated by the law which must take precedence over any government policy, or one might say any private assurance that he might give to a particular officer. The existence of authorities such as Forbes and Milthorpe indicates that conformably with the Freedom of Information Act no officer, certainly no senior officer, could legally obtain an absolute guarantee of confidentiality of his or her total remuneration package figure without some special enabling legislation."

An additional wide public interest aspect that relates to my application is that employment relations (including the regulation of pay and conditions) in the public sector are widely considered to serve as a role model for industrial relations in the private sector (see, for example, Creighton B and Forsyth R [Eds.] Rediscovering Collective Bargaining, 2012 at pp.184-185). That is, the way in which a government treats its staff (public servants) can be considered emblematic of the way in which a government considers employees across the broader workforce should be treated by their employers. The current Commonwealth Government has an employment relations policy in place (known as the ‘Australian Public Service Bargaining Framework’) which necessarily involves reducing the living standards of rank and file (non-SES) public servants. Senior management at the ABS has decided, at its discretion, to adopt and enforce, against its rank and file staff, the Government’s employment relations policy. Part of the purpose of my application is to determine whether the Government’s policy to reduce the living standards of rank and file public servants also extends to SES public servants. The documents the subject of my request will shed some light on that issue. It is immutably in the public interest of APS rank and file employees and their families, but also Australian taxpayers and working Australians more generally, to know whether it is the current Government’s view that rank and file employees who are not categorised as senior executives (or equivalent) are generally overpaid, and should therefore have their living standards reduced by their employers, while senior executives (or their equivalents) are generally underpaid and should have their living standards increased. Such an insight will augment the public’s knowledge of the Government’s existing policies concerning the distribution of wealth among Australian society including the Government’s policy to reduce the level of penalty rates paid to some of the lowest paid members of the Australian workforce while simultaneously reducing company taxation rates.

Thank you.

[name not required to be provided under the FOI Act]

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From: Danielle Gillett
Australian Bureau of Statistics

Good Morning

I refer to your application in which you seek access to documents under
the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (ABS reference FOI 201617/65)
regarding:


o Documents which detail the precise monies paid to each of the
Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS') SES officers in the following
financial years - FY2013/14, FY 2014/15 and FY2015/16. The group
certificates/end-of-year PAYG payments summaries issued by the ABS to
each of its SES staff in those years can be quickly and easily
identified and retrieved, and will efficiently and accurately provide
the information the subject of your request.

Your request was received by the ABS on the 16 June 2017 and the 30 days
statutory period for processing your request commenced from that date. If
this request will take longer than 30 days to process, we will contact you
to negotiate an extension of time.

You will be notified of any charges in accordance with the Freedom of
Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations, should they apply, in relation
to your request as soon as practicable.

Kind Regards

FOI Contact Officer 

Australian Bureau of Statistics 

(P) (02) 6252 7203 

(E) [1][ABS request email]   (W)  [2]www.abs.gov.au

The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS handles any personal
information that you provide to us.

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[ABS request email]
2. http://www.abs.gov.au/

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From: Carl English


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Our reference: RQ17/01265

Agency reference: FOI 201617/65

Anonymous

By email: [FOI #3640 email]

Dear Sir/Madam

Extension of time under s 15AB

On 27 June 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (the ABS) applied for
further time to make a decision on your FOI request of 16 June 2017.

This application was on the basis that the processing period is
insufficient to deal adequately with your request, because it is complex
and voluminous.

Decision

I have decided to grant the ABS an extension of time to process your
request to 15 August 2017. This decision has been made under s 15AB(2) of
the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).

By granting further time it is anticipated that the ABS will provide a
well-reasoned and better managed decision.

Contact

If you have any questions regarding this email please contact me on 02
9284 9745 or via email [email address]. Please quote OAIC
reference number RQ17/01265 in all correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Carl English | Assistant Review and Investigation Officer | Freedom of
Information Dispute Resolution

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

GPO Box 5218 SYDNEY NSW 2001| [1]www.oaic.gov.au

Phone:  +61 2 9284 9745 | E-mail: [email address]

 

Protecting information rights – advancing information policy

[2]cid:image001.png@01D26682.9CE52410

 

show quoted sections

References

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1. http://www.oaic.gov.au/

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

The OAIC will rubber stamp just about any s 15AB application by an agency, whether or not justified grounds exist, unfortunately. See http://foi-privacy.blogspot.com.au/2013/...

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From: Danielle Gillett
Australian Bureau of Statistics


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Attachment FOI 201617 65 Response.pdf
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Dear Applicant

In response to your Freedom of Information request received on 31 May
2017, please find attached the formal response from the ABS.

(See attached file: FOI 201617-65 - Response.pdf)

Should you have any questions regarding this please feel free to contact
the ABS FOI Contact Officer by telephoning (02) 6252 7203 or emailing
[1][ABS request email]

Kind Regards

FOI Contact Officer 

Australian Bureau of Statistics 

(P) (02) 6252 7203 

(E) [2][ABS request email]   (W)  [3]www.abs.gov.au

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[ABS request email]
2. mailto:[ABS request email]
3. http://www.abs.gov.au/

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Verity Pane left an annotation ()

Seems to be a creeping use of s 15AB “complex and voluminous” extensions granted by the OAIC (who hand them out like confetti at a wedding), a section whose purpose is to allow agencies sufficient time to prepare and release a high quality response for large disclosures, for the unethical purposes of stalling a refusal decision. This is very disappointing.

Notably the ABS took a different approach here, to the same question asked to the OAIC, who did release such information https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/p... (albeit the request was slightly smaller).

On personal privacy, it is important to note that official information, which includes information about individual public servants that is directly connected to their official duties, is not personal information. It’s only where there is no connection between their official duties and the information in question that it falls within personal information. Salary information is official information, notwithstanding it may relate to an individual (note also that the Privacy Act, as recently reinforced in Grubb, does not apply just because information may led to your identity or relates to you, it takes a narrower scope than some European legislation).

You may wish to consider resubmitting with a narrower scope, following the example of the OAIC FOI referred to above (rather than seeking copy of Group Certificates, seek a discrete document under s 17 of de-identified salaries paid for the years you are interested in)

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Australian Bureau of Statistics only: