Seeking internal review of s47C redactions in the humanitarian overseas service medal brief for Iraq 2004
From: Trav S
Dear Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,
We seek information withheld via Section 47C redactions in PMC’s 19 April 2004 brief to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister regarding the humanitarian overseas service medal for Iraq.
We put that the factors favouring disclosure outweigh the factors against disclosure and we seek an internal review of PMC’s decision to redact the information.
Disclosure will promote the objects of the FOI Act, and will increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government’s administration of Australia’s honours system. The FOI guidelines state that an:
“essential balance must be struck between making information held by government available to the public so that there can be increased public participation leading to better informed decision-making and increased scrutiny and review of the government’s activities and ensuring that government my function effectively and efficiently”.
The medal is Australia’s only non-defence operational service medal for civilians. PMC deems commercial contractors ineligible for the medal in some humanitarian operations and eligible for the medal in others. This puts that some contractors are virtuous and worthy of recognition while others aren’t.
On one hand PMC explains this by asserting that commercial contractors are motivated by money, and on this basis ineligible for a humanitarian service medal. While at the same time, PMC recommends the medal for other commercial contractors without reasonably disclosing to public for public scrutiny their reasoning for the difference.
The medal was instituted via Letters Patent in 1999 to recognise:
“persons who have given humanitarian service in hazardous circumstances outside Australia”.
The governing regulations
The regulations governing the medal’s declaration for Iraq state that declarations may specify certain classes of person as ineligible for the medal if:
“the person is, or is an employee of, a commercial contractor to an organisation in the specified hazardous area“.
This institutes a class versus merit system where recognition is accorded for class versus substance of action or the actual value of the person's humanitarian service contribution. This conflicts with Australian values and specifically the principles underpinning the honours system.
Australia's honours system is predicated on:
“ a sense of fairness are, equity and compassion and an egalitarian commitment to acknowledge the quality of service and substance of action without regard to status or class.”
Premising eligible humanitarian service on class versus merit doesn’t comport with these values. The public has an interest in understanding why PMC advocated this approach given they understood the Australian contingent responsible for delivering government’s humanitarian relief and recovery programs for the Iraqi people was comprised from public servants and contractors.
Regarding specifically ineligibility for the medal, the 2004 declaration states:
“eligible service does not include service as a commercial contractor, or an employee of a commercial contractor, to a specified organisation”
The public record shows that the medal was awarded to at least five commercial contractors in Iraq. Speaking to this PMC opines that:
“a person who is directly employed by an eligible organisation under contract is treated the same as a permanent employee of that organisation for the medal’s purposes”.
This reasoning's validity is challenged by the honours system's principles. The situation of awarding the medal to one class of contractor but not another class of contractor who are working together in the same contingent is unfair within a system predicated on fairness and an egalitarian commitment to recognise substance of action without regard to status or class.
PMC's duty was to undertake thorough consultations to ensure that all organisations participating the Australian government’s relief and recovery programs for the Iraqi people had the opportunity to provide a detailed submission regarding eligibility of personnel. This was particularly important given Iraq was the first time the Australian government applied an all-of-government approach, utilising a mix of public servants and contractors to comprise an Australian humanitarian contingent amidst and ongoing war.
The brief states that only two organisations were consulted, Defence and DFAT. PMC understood that there were other organisations participating but they may have chosen not to consult them or offer the opportunity to present a submission for consideration. If PMC did consider these other organisations, the redactions prevent the public due public scrutiny of this process.
Disclosure will promote the objects of the FOI Act, and will increase scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government’s administration of Australia’s honours system.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Dear Mr Trav S
Thank you for your email dated 19 June 2020, received by the Department of
the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the Department), in which you made a
request to the Department under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the
FOI Act) in the following terms:
We seek information withheld via Section 47C redactions in PMC’s 19 April
2004 brief to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister regarding the
humanitarian overseas service medal for Iraq.
Timeframe for receiving your decision
We received your request on 19 June 2020 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
Monday, 20 July 2020. The period of 30 days may be extended in certain
circumstances. We will advise you if there is any extension of time.
Agencies may decide that an applicant is liable to pay a charge in respect
of a request for access to documents. If the Department decides that you
are liable to pay a charge, we will send you a preliminary assessment of
the charge as soon as possible.
Publication of documents
Please note that information released under the FOI Act may later be
published online on our disclosure log at
subject to certain exceptions. If you think you might wish to raise any
objections to the publication of any of the information which may be
released to you please contact us by email at [DPMC request email]. If you
do wish to object to the publication of information, you would need to
provide supporting reasons.
Exclusion of officers’ names and contact details
For documents that fall within scope of the request, it is the
Department’s policy to withhold:
· any person’s signature;
· the names and contact details of Australian Public Service
officers not in the Senior Executive Service (SES);
· the mobile or direct numbers of SES officers;
· the names and contact details of Ministerial staff at a level
below Chief of Staff.
The names and other details of SES officers will not be withheld unless
there is some reason for that information to be exempt from release. If
you require signatures, the names and contact details of non-SES officers
or Ministerial staff below the level of Chief of Staff, or the mobile or
direct numbers of SES officers please let us know at [DPMC 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 (that
is, the information will be treated as irrelevant and redacted from any
documents for release).
We will write again when the Department has more information. Further
information on FOI processing can be found at the website of the Office of
the Australian Information Commissioner
FOI and Privacy Section| Legal Policy Branch
Government Division | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
One National Circuit Barton ACT 2600 | PO Box 6500 CANBERRA ACT 2600
2. mailto:[DPMC request email]
3. mailto:[DPMC request email]
7. mailto:[DPMC request email]