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 Human Services

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From: Name withheld

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

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 Human Service’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 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]

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Dear Sir or Madam

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 27631).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

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Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
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Dear Sir or Madam

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 27631).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

[2]Description: Description: Description: Description: Description:
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This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
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From: Name withheld

Delivered

Thank you for your letter.

I do not accept your assertion that the Department "would be required to consult with each of these individuals regarding the release of their personal information." The FOI Act imposes no such obligation. And given the established wide and countervailing public interest in the information I seek (and noting the redactions I have agreed to) there must be considerable doubt as to whether the requirements of paragraph 27A(1)(b) can be made out.

Further, I do not accept your assertion that "based on [your] experience with this form of consultation, I estimate it would take approximately two hours to consult with each individual."

Any consultation conducted in accordance with the object of the FOI Act set out at subsection 3(4) would be nowhere near as time consuming as you have estimated. A consultation request email copied to all relevant officers would take less than an hour to prepare. And to the extent that any representations are received in response, they're highly unlikely to contain anything more than assumptions or allegations that some form of relevant harm might occur if the Department released information in recognition of the public interest in the precise remuneration paid to senior public servants for performing public duties.

Notwithstanding that I consider your decision had been improperly made, 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.

Thanks.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 27631 Charges notice.pdf
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Dear Sir or Madam

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 27631).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

[2]Description: Description: Description: Description: Description:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description:
Description: cid:image001.png@01CD1993.20C1C870

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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