Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how to save money.

Vito Guzzardi made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Waiting for an internal review by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of their handling of this request.

From: Vito Guzzardi

Delivered

Dear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,

Please provide an Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how to save money, and to include but not limited to airfare costs, accommodation costs, food costs, beverage costs, seminar / course costs and any other costs billed to the Australian Taxpayer.

Yours faithfully,

Vito Guzzardi

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

UNCLASSIFIED

 

Our Ref:  1610-F1555

 

Dear Mr Guzzardi

 

Re: Freedom of Information (FOI) Request

 

Thank you for your email below in which you seek access under the Freedom
of Information Act 1982 to:

 

an Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how
to save money, and to include but not limited to airfare costs,
accommodation costs, food costs, beverage costs, seminar / course costs
and any other costs billed to the Australian Taxpayer.

 

Searches are now being undertaken in relevant areas of the Department for
documents relevant to your request.  I will contact you again once the
searches have been completed.

 

Timeframe for receiving your decision:

We received your request on 20 October  and the 30 day statutory period
for processing your request commenced from the day after that date.  You
should therefore expect a decision from us by 21 November (noting that 20
November is a Sunday).  The period of 30 days may be extended in certain
circumstances.  We will advise you if there is any extension of time.

 

 

Scope of request:

If it emerges that the scope of your request is unclear or is too large
for processing, the Department will contact you to discuss re-scoping the
request.

 

Exclusion of officials’ names and contact details:

It is the Department’s policy to withhold the mobile numbers of all
government officials, and the names and contact details of government
officials not in the Senior Executive Service (SES).  If you require the
mobile numbers of all government officials, or the names and contact
details of non-SES officials, please let us know at [1][DFAT request email] so
the decision-maker may consider; otherwise we will take it that you agree
to that information being excluded from the scope of your request.

 

Charges:

Please note that the Department issues charges for processing FOI
requests.  We will advise you of these charges when we are in a position
to estimate the resources required to process your request.

 

Timing of release:

As the subject matter of your request will require DFAT to upload any
documents released to you to the Department’s FOI Disclosure Log, I take
this opportunity to advise you that the Department’s policy is to upload
documents to the disclosure log on the same day as the documents are
released to you. 

 

Personal Information:

Your personal information has been collected by the Department as a result
of your correspondence, and will be used in order to process your FOI
request.  Your personal information is protected by law, including the
Privacy Act 1988.  The Department’s privacy policy is available at
[2]dfat.gov.au/privacy.html and contains information about access to or
correction of your personal information, and how you may complain about a
breach of your privacy.

 

Please note that if we need to consult with other people regarding release
of the documents you have requested, we may need to disclose your personal
information. When we consult with other people about a request you have
made, it may be apparent to those people that you have made a request,
even if we do not disclose your identity. If you have concerns about the
Department consulting with other people about your request, please let us
know your concerns.

 

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to
contact me on (02) 6261 3470, or by return email.

 

Please note a copy of this email has been sent to Helen Horsington,
Director, Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section, for her
information.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Ada Cheung
 
Assistant Director
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Freedom of Information & Privacy Law      E |   
Section [3][email address]
Corporate Legal Branch      T |  +61 2 6261 3470
Legal Division W |  [4]www.dfat.gov.au  

 

 

 

 

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Attachment F1555 decision letter signed.pdf
49K Download View as HTML


UNCLASSIFIED

 

Dear Mr Guzzardi,

 

Please find attached the outcome letter in relation to this FOI request.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Ada Cheung
 
Assistant Director
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Freedom of Information & Privacy Law      E |   
Section [1][email address]
Corporate Legal Branch      T |  +61 2 6261 3470
Legal Division W |  [2]www.dfat.gov.au  

 

 

 

 

show quoted sections

Link to this

From: Vito Guzzardi

Delivered

Dear FOI,

Please see the following newspaper website link that explains my FOI request further - post your most recent reply that nothing existed in response to my original request.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/p...

Thanks

Yours sincerely,

Vito Guzzardi

Link to this

Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

I have looked at the website that the applicant mentions in his final email. I have also read the decision letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

According to the web-page of the Sydney Morning Herald (http://bit.ly/2domrhX ), the conference was from 7 Septermber 2016 to 9 September 2016. Therefore, on 20 October 2016 (this is the day of the request by the applicant), the expenses for the trip would be inside the knowledge of the department. So what is happening here? What does the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade mean when the decision maker says that the document does not exist? In my opinion there exist two possibilities. It is the most probable that the department is trying to play a game of "black letter law". Mr Guzzardi has asked for an itemised account and maybe on 20 October 2016 such an itemised account did not exist. This would explain the sentence in the decision letter that says "An applicant cannot insist that their request cover documents created after the request is received." Maybe an itemised account now exists but it was created after 20 October 2016!

There is also another possibility but I do not want to embarrass the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The possibility is that the officer does not understand the law! I say this because we can assume that (as I have already said) the information, but maybe not a document, about the costs of the trips was already possessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by 20 October 2016. In general, the Freedom of Information Act of the Commonwealth of Australia gives an applicant a right to access documents but does not require a department to create documents or provide general information to answer questions. However, there is an important exception to this and I now quote section 17 of the Act. It is rather long but informative. I hope my readers will follow:

17 Requests involving use of computers etc.
(1) Where: (a) a request ... is made in accordance with the requirements of subsection 15(2) to an agency; (b) it appears from the request that the desire of the applicant is for information that is not available in discrete form in written documents of the agency; and (ba) it does not appear from the request that the applicant wishes to be provided with a computer tape or computer disk on which the information is recorded; and
(c) the agency could produce a written document containing the information in discrete form by: (i) the use of a computer or other equipment that is ordinarily available to the agency for retrieving or collating stored information ... the agency shall deal with the request as if it were a request for access to a written document so produced and containing that information and, for that purpose, this Act applies as if the agency had such a document in its possession.

So, let us summarise. The information that the applicant wants might not exists "in discrete form in written documents of the agency", but the information will exist in the computers of the agency because each employee will have a file for travel expenses and they will be recorded in a computer! Therefore, section 17 applies to the applicants request and the agency should produce the document that the applicant wants and deal with the request as if the agency [already] had the document.

What is the applicant to do? He has several choices, including a choice to do nothing at all. Also he could lodge a new application, or he could ask for an internal review. I think that the only benefit of a new application would be in the unlikely fact that the department did not actually have the cost information by 20 October. I believe this is not likely, so I think a request for internal review is better. Here is the internal review letter. It must be sent before 21 December 2016.

Dear Ms Horsington,

Please pass this email on to the person who conducts internal reviews.

On 21 November 2016 I received a decision notice (http://bit.ly/2hYXPdg ) from your decision maker. The decision notice refused access to the document I requested in my email (http://bit.ly/2gLgXKO ) of 20 October 2016. For the reasons that follow, I believe that the decision maker has made a mistake.

(A) In the Sydney Morning Herald (http://bit.ly/2domrhX ) from 19 October there is a story that describes a "two day junket in September" for executives of the DFAT that was from 7 September 2016 to 9 September 2016.
(B) On 20 October 2016 I requested "an Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how to save money, and to include but not limited to airfare costs, accommodation costs, food costs, beverage costs, seminar / course costs and any other costs billed to the Australian Taxpayer."
(C) I think that by 20 October 2016 the DFAT would have the information about the cost of the trip for each executive and that the information would have been stored on a departmental computer. The information is probably in a travel file for each executive or in summaries of credit card statements for the executives.
(D) Section 17 of the FOI Act required your decision maker, Ms Horsington, to treat my request for an itemised account as a request for a document that actually existed even if a discrete document did not exist on 20 October 2016.

Please review the decision made by Ms Horsington and grant me access to the itemised account.

Yours etc.

Link to this

From: Vito Guzzardi

Delivered

Dear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's handling of my FOI request 'Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how to save money.'.

I have looked at the website that the applicant mentions in his final email. I have also read the decision letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

According to the web-page of the Sydney Morning Herald (http://bit.ly/2domrhX ), the conference was from 7 Septermber 2016 to 9 September 2016. Therefore, on 20 October 2016 (this is the day of the request by the applicant), the expenses for the trip would be inside the knowledge of the department. So what is happening here? What does the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade mean when the decision maker says that the document does not exist? In my opinion there exist two possibilities. It is the most probable that the department is trying to play a game of "black letter law". Mr Guzzardi has asked for an itemised account and maybe on 20 October 2016 such an itemised account did not exist. This would explain the sentence in the decision letter that says "An applicant cannot insist that their request cover documents created after the request is received." Maybe an itemised account now exists but it was created after 20 October 2016!

There is also another possibility but I do not want to embarrass the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The possibility is that the officer does not understand the law! I say this because we can assume that (as I have already said) the information, but maybe not a document, about the costs of the trips was already possessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by 20 October 2016. In general, the Freedom of Information Act of the Commonwealth of Australia gives an applicant a right to access documents but does not require a department to create documents or provide general information to answer questions. However, there is an important exception to this and I now quote section 17 of the Act. It is rather long but informative. I hope my readers will follow:

17 Requests involving use of computers etc.
(1) Where: (a) a request ... is made in accordance with the requirements of subsection 15(2) to an agency; (b) it appears from the request that the desire of the applicant is for information that is not available in discrete form in written documents of the agency; and (ba) it does not appear from the request that the applicant wishes to be provided with a computer tape or computer disk on which the information is recorded; and
(c) the agency could produce a written document containing the information in discrete form by: (i) the use of a computer or other equipment that is ordinarily available to the agency for retrieving or collating stored information ... the agency shall deal with the request as if it were a request for access to a written document so produced and containing that information and, for that purpose, this Act applies as if the agency had such a document in its possession.

So, let us summarise. The information that the applicant wants might not exists "in discrete form in written documents of the agency", but the information will exist in the computers of the agency because each employee will have a file for travel expenses and they will be recorded in a computer! Therefore, section 17 applies to the applicants request and the agency should produce the document that the applicant wants and deal with the request as if the agency [already] had the document.

What is the applicant to do? He has several choices, including a choice to do nothing at all. Also he could lodge a new application, or he could ask for an internal review. I think that the only benefit of a new application would be in the unlikely fact that the department did not actually have the cost information by 20 October. I believe this is not likely, so I think a request for internal review is better. Here is the internal review letter. It must be sent before 21 December 2016.

Dear Ms Horsington,

Please pass this email on to the person who conducts internal reviews.

On 21 November 2016 I received a decision notice (http://bit.ly/2hYXPdg ) from your decision maker. The decision notice refused access to the document I requested in my email (http://bit.ly/2gLgXKO ) of 20 October 2016. For the reasons that follow, I believe that the decision maker has made a mistake.

(A) In the Sydney Morning Herald (http://bit.ly/2domrhX ) from 19 October there is a story that describes a "two day junket in September" for executives of the DFAT that was from 7 September 2016 to 9 September 2016.
(B) On 20 October 2016 I requested "an Itemised account for sending 20+ employees to France so as to learn how to save money, and to include but not limited to airfare costs, accommodation costs, food costs, beverage costs, seminar / course costs and any other costs billed to the Australian Taxpayer."
(C) I think that by 20 October 2016 the DFAT would have the information about the cost of the trip for each executive and that the information would have been stored on a departmental computer. The information is probably in a travel file for each executive or in summaries of credit card statements for the executives.
(D) Section 17 of the FOI Act required your decision maker, Ms Horsington, to treat my request for an itemised account as a request for a document that actually existed even if a discrete document did not exist on 20 October 2016.

Please review the decision made by Ms Horsington and grant me access to the itemised account.

Thanks
Vito Guzzardi.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/i...

Yours faithfully,

Vito Guzzardi

Link to this

From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

UNCLASSIFIED

Dear Mr Guizzardi,

I would be grateful if you could confirm that you wish to seek internal review of the Department's decision in this matter. As the below e-mail refers to you throughout entirely in the third person, it is not clear that you are actually the person requesting the internal review, rather than 'Locutus Sum', who wrote the commentary.

Yours sincerely,
DFAT FOI Team

show quoted sections

Link to this

Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade only: