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

Name withheld made this Freedom of Information request to Attorney-General's Department

The request was refused by Attorney-General's Department.

From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Attorney-General's Department,

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 Attorney-General's Department's (the Department's) 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 Department 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 Department who, at the time of my application, were categorised as SES officers, meaning that:
- Department staff who were once SES officers at the Department, 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 Department;
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 Department 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: Name withheld

Delivered

Hi - does the Attorney General's Department intend to comply with the obligation imposed on it by paragraph 15(5)(a) of the FOI Act by acknowledging receipt of my request?

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

Note to the applicant: If you are familiar with section 15(5)(a) of the Act then you will also know that the agency is required to acknowledge your request "as soon as practicable", but the time limit by the section is "not later than 14 days after the day on which the request is received". Your application was lodged on 24 June 2017 so the 14 day limit was reached only on 8 July 2017. Obviously you are very entitled to ask whether the agency will acknowledge your application but if your intention was to rebuke the agency for not having acknowledged your application by 8 July 2017, then you have been a little hasty. Because of s 36(2)(b) of the Acts Interpretation Act (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... ) the agency does not have to give a response on a public holiday or weekend but is permitted until the next day that is not a weekend or public holiday.

I hope that you receive your acknowledgment on Monday. Held og lykke!

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From: FOI Requests
Attorney-General's Department

UNCLASSIFIED

Dear Sir/ Madam,

 

Freedom of Information request FOI17/113

 

I refer to your request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI
Act) for access to document relating to SES remuneration. Specifically,
you requested:

 

Accordingly, I request documents which detail the precise monies paid to
each of the Attorney-General's Department's (the Department's) 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 Department 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 Department
who, at the time of my application, were categorised as SES officers,
meaning that:

- Department staff who were once SES officers at the Department, 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 Department; are discounted from the scope of
my application.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge your request.

 

We received your request on 24 June 2017 and the 30 day statutory period
for processing your request commenced from the day after that date. You
should therefore expect a decision forum us by 24 July 2017. The period of
30 days may be extended if we need to consult third parties or for other
reasons. We will advise you if this happens.

 

It is the usual practice of the department to not disclose the names and
contact details of junior officers of the department and other government
agencies, where that personal information is contained in documents within
the scope of a request. The names and contact details of senior officers
will generally be disclosed. We will take it that you agree to the removal
of junior officers’ personal information unless you advise that you would
like us to consider releasing that information as part of the documents
you have requested.

 

Please note that information released under the FOI Act may later be
published online on our disclosure log
htpp://www.ag.gov.au/RightsandProtections/FOI/Pages/Freedomofinformationanddisclosurelog.aspx,
subject to certain exceptions. For example, personal information will not
be published where this would be unreasonable.

 

We will contact you using the email address you provided. Please advise if
you would prefer us to use an alternative means of contact.   

 

If you have questions, please contact me by telephone on (02) 6141 6666 or
by email [1][AGD request email].

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

Courtney

Freedom of Information and Privacy Section

Strategy and Delivery Division | Attorney-General’s Department

T: (02) 6141 6666 | E: [2][AGD request email]

 

 

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From: FOI Requests
Attorney-General's Department


Attachment FOI17109 SES pay.pdf
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UNCLASSIFIED
Dear Sir/ Madam,

Please find attached a signed decision letter in relation to your Freedom of Information request.

The department's FOI team is contactable via email at [AGD request email] should you have any queries.

Kind regards,
Courtney

Freedom of Information and Privacy Section | Strategy and Delivery Division Attorney-General’s Department
T: (02) 6141 6666| E: [AGD request email]

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From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Ms Daniels

Thank you for your decision.

Noting that there are officers at the Attorney General's Department who are not categorised as SES but who are authorised, under s.23(1) of the FOI Act, to make decisions in relation to FOI requests, can you please explain how you've complied with the obligation impoed on you by s.13(7) of the Public Service Act 1999 in making your decision?

Yours sincerely,

Name withheld

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From: FOI Requests
Attorney-General's Department

UNCLASSIFIED
Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your email dated 25 July 2017.

The department has considered your query and can offer the following information which may be of assistance:

(1) The department remains of the view that the decision maker for this matter, Helen Daniels, is the most appropriate person to have made the decision. Ms Daniels has responsibility for the primary subject matter of your request (being, employee remuneration).
(2) The department does not consider there was any available avenue for entirely avoiding a perceived conflict of interest in dealing with this matter. While we note your contention that there is a non- SES delegation (and that this would have been a suitable way to manage a conflict), the department’s view is that this would not significantly alleviate any perceived conflict of interest. This is because the single non-SES delegate reports directly to an SES officer who is in turn, impacted by the scope of your request.
(3) The department maintains its position that the material you have requested is exempt from disclosure under both section 47E and section 47F of the FOI Act.
(4) As with any access decision made under the FOI Act, it is open to you to seek external review of this matter.

Kind regards,
Courtney

FOI & Privacy Section
Attorney-General’s Department
(02) 6141 6666 [AGD request email]

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