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 Department of Jobs and Small Business

The request was refused by Department of Jobs and Small Business.

From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Department of Employment,

This request is an application for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (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 staff ('SES')) public servants, also extends to SES public servants. 

Accordingly, I request documents which detail the precise remuneration paid to each of the Department of Employment’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:

- Departmental 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.

In making this application I note that the information to which I seek access is broadly known, not least because the Department (among others) has chosen to publish, to the world at large (through its website), information pertaining to the names of its SES officers and their indicative salaries (in recognition of the established wide and countervailing public interest in such information and because it considered that it was not be unreasonable to do so). Further, the information relating to SES public servants included in their annual payment summaries/group certificates is included because that information relates to those public servants’ usual public duties and responsibilities.

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 Stewart and Department of Transport (1993) 1 QAR 227; 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 for 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 not only Departmental employees and employees across the wider public service, 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.

Yours sincerely

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

Link to this

From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Department of Employment,

I'm inquiring as to the status of my FOI request. Does the Department intend to acknowledge my request in accordance with the obligation imposed on it by paragraph 15(5)(a) of the FOI Act? I await your advice.

Yours faithfully,

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

Link to this

From: Employment - FOI

Dear Sir/Madam,

 

We refer to your below correspondence, received by the Department of
Employment on 6 February 2017.

 

Your request will be processed in accordance with the Freedom of
Information Act 1982 (Cth).

 

Should you have any queries about this matter, please contact us via email
to [1][Department of Employment request email].

 

Kind regards,

 

Information Law Team

Information Law, Practice Management and Corporate Advising Branch

Australian Government Department of Employment
Email: [2][Department of Employment request email]

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Employment - FOI


Attachment 20170227 Notice under section 24AB of the FOI Act.pdf
2.7M Download View as HTML


Dear Sir/Madam,

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your request to the
Department of Employment, seeking access to certain documents under the
Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).

 

Regards,

 

Information Law Team

Information Law, Practice Management and Corporate Advising Branch

Australian Government Department of Employment
Email: [1][Department of Employment request email]

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Name withheld

Delivered

Thanks for your letter.

In response, and pursuant to paragraph 24AB(6)(b) of the FOI Act, my revised request is for the group certificates/end of year payment summaries for the Department’s SES Band 3 officers for the 2013/14,2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years.

I note your comments about the public availability of certain information concerning the remuneration of the Department’s SES officers. The information to which you refer is presented so broadly such that it is incapable of any detailed or sensible analysis, particularly when having regard to the purpose of my request which is to determine whether the Department’s decision to implement the Government’s policy to reduce the living standards of its rank and file staff also extends to its SES staff.

I maintain that the Government’s treatment of its own staff can be considered a weathervane as to how the Government considers workers across the broader workforce should be treated by their employers. Accordingly, if the Department’s SES group has determined to reduce the living standards of its rank and file staff while at the same time maintaining or improving the living standards of its SES staff, then that’s a matter of considerable public interest for Commonwealth public servants and for Australians generally.

As mentioned in my application, numerous authorities establish that the precise remuneration paid to senior public servants for performing public duties is a matter of wide and countervailing public interest. The salary and conditions of public servants is a matter regularly considered by mainstream media outlets and I think it can be reasonably argued that in the current environment, the wide and countervailing public interest in the precise remuneration given to senior public servants is stronger than it has ever been.

Link to this

From: Employment - FOI

Dear Sir/Madam,

 

We refer to your below email of 28 February 2017 and understand that you
have revised the scope of your request to “the group certificates/end of
year payment summaries for the Department’s SES Band 3 officers for the
2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years”.

 

The Department will process your request on the basis of this revised
scope.

 

We note that in your correspondence dated 6 February 2017 you indicated
that tax file numbers, home addresses and information relating to the
amount of tax withheld for each relevant SES officer could be redacted.
You also indicated that your request was limited to:

 

“officers employed by the Department who, at the time of my application,
were categorised as SES officers, meaning that:

- Departmental 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.”

 

We have assumed that this also applies in relation to your revised
request. However, if this is not the case please let us know.

 

Your request covers documents which contain information about the personal
or professional affairs of individuals. The Department considers that
these third parties may wish to make submissions about the release of the
documents and contend that certain information is exempt under the FOI
Act. Accordingly, under sections 27 and 27A of the FOI Act the Department
is required to consult with these third parties before making its decision
on access to the documents.

 

To allow for consultation with these third parties, subsection 15(6) of
the FOI Act extends the standard 30-day statutory time period by a further
30 days. This will give the Department 60 days in which to notify you of
its decision on access to the documents. 

Should you have any queries concerning this matter, please contact us via
email to [1][Department of Employment request email].

Regards,

 

 

Information Law Team

Information Law, Practice Management and Corporate Advising Branch

Australian Government Department of Employment
Email: [2][Department of Employment request email]

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Employment - FOI


Attachment 20170407 decision on access.pdf
4.5M Download View as HTML


Dear Sir/Madam,

 

Please find attached the Department of Employment’s decision in relation
to your request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).

 

Regards,

 

Information Law Team

Information Law, Practice Management and Corporate Advising Branch

Australian Government Department of Employment
Email: [1][Department of Employment request email]

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Jobs and Small Business only: