Source of data for table in 2015 annual report

Patrick Conheady made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Human Services

The request was refused by Department of Human Services.

From: Patrick Conheady

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

Please provide the emails, SQL queries and other documents being the source of the data presented in table 2 'Total number of social security and welfare claims, granted and rejected, by major payment type' in your 2014-2015 Annual Report, including the communications in which that data was requested.

Yours faithfully,

-Pat.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

The FOI team will be closed from 24 December 2015 until 1 January 2016
(inclusive). Applications lodged during that period will be considered
when we re-open on 4 January 2016.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 16961 Registration Acknowledgement letter.pdf
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Dear Mr Conheady

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 16961).

 

Regards

 

 

FOI Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

( Ext: 619655 | * [1][email address]

 

[2]Description: Description: Description: Description: Description:
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This email is intended for the use of the addressee and may contain
information that is confidential, commercially valuable or subject to
Legal Professional Privilege. Privilege is not waived by the mistaken
delivery of this email. If you are not the intended recipient of this
email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Patrick Conheady

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Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

Your request for an extension to 10 February 2016 is granted.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Conheady

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 16961 Communication Notification of charges.pdf
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Dear Mr Conheady

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 16961).

 

Regards

 

 

FOI Practitioner

FOI 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 is intended for the use of the addressee and may contain
information that is confidential, commercially valuable or subject to
Legal Professional Privilege. Privilege is not waived by the mistaken
delivery of this email. If you are not the intended recipient of this
email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Patrick Conheady

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

Thankyou for your email. I would like to take option B and contend that the charge both has been wrongly assessed and should be reduced or not imposed, for the following reasons:

1. Publishing the requested documents -- and other similar documents -- without charge is consistent with the Government's open data policy.

2. The giving of access to the document in question is both "in the general public interest" and "in the interest of a substantial section of the public": FOI Act s 29(5)(b).

3. In the alternative, the charge is excessive because the assessment of time spent should not include time spent by reason of an inadequate filing system: FOI Regs reg 2(2)(b).

The remainder of this email sets out the detail of the above grounds.

==================================================
Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement
==================================================

"The data held by the Australian Government is a strategic national resource that holds considerable value for growing the economy, improving service delivery and transforming policy outcomes for the Nation.
...
The Australian Government commits to [...] release non sensitive data as open by default [...].

Public data includes all data collected by government entities for any purposes including; government administration, research or service delivery. Non-sensitive data is anonymised data that does not identify an individual or breach privacy or security requirements.
...
Australian Government entities will:
...
only charge for specialised data services
...
At a minimum, Australian Government entities will publish appropriately anonymised government data by default:
...
with descriptive metadata."

The information held by government agencies such as the Department includes not only the explicit data held in its databases, but also the statistics which could be generated from that data. Indeed, in many cases these statistics are more valuable than the individual data.

However, the public's ability to select and frame -- or even conceive of -- the statistical measures which could be drawn from government data is limited by its ability to see the metadata -- tables and columns -- and how these are used in practice by the government itself.

The requested documents target one table from the Department's most recent public report -- one example of the government selectively releasing statistical information and withholding other possible statistics -- and would illustrate how the government goes about compiling and selecting the information it chooses to allow the public to see.

Accordingly, it is consistent with Government policy to release the requested documents. They are non-sensitive and should be open by default, to allow the public to start to have meaningful access to the non-sensitive statistical information embedded in the Department's databases.

===========================
The general public interest
===========================

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

This quote reflects the reality that the selection and framing of statistical information allows a person or organisation to control the message to be conveyed. Sometimes the selection of one statistic or another, the definition of a measure, or a choice of presentation, will have a greater influence on the reader's perception than the underlying facts, which become emphasised or obscured at the whim of the one presenting them.

The public is reliant on statements by government agencies to find out about the operations of those agencies. When a government agency publishes statistics about itself, it alone selects and frames its own perception. The selective withholding of information is a form of secrecy.

Accordingly, in order that the transparency intended in the annual report process be meaningful, it is necessary that the public have access to information about how these statistics are compiled.

What other information does the government hold, next to the information which it chose to disclose?

What decisions have been made within the government about what to present, how to present it, and what not to present?

What other statistics could members of the public and non-government organisations seek, if they could share in the government's power to frame and select statistics?

If a government agency, or the Government of the day, sought different or additional statistics to explore and issue or bolster a point, they would be able to get them at will. If this power is treated as the exclusive privilege of the government, then it creates an unjustified information imbalance between the government and the public, contrary to the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

In order to alleviate some of the de facto secrecy embodied in the selective publication of statistics, and to avoid an unjustified information imbalance in favour of the government, it is in the public interest that information about the source and compilation of published statistics also be published.

===================================================
The interest of a substantial section of the public
===================================================

Spending on programs administered by the Department makes up 40% of Commonwealth expenditure. This expenditure is funded primarily by Commonwealth taxation, which is contributed to by nearly every Australian.

Millions of Australians are themselves recipients under one or more programs administered by the Department.

The spirit of helping others in our community, embodied in many of the programs administered by the Department, is central to the ethos of the Australian people.

Accordingly, detailed and reliable information about the programs administered by the Department is in the interest of a substantial section of the public.

==============================================================
Time spent not to include time due to inadequate filing system
==============================================================

The preliminary assessment of the charge for this request is based on 3.87 hours or 3 hours, 52 minutes and 12 seconds, for searching for and retrieving four documents. This assessment should be reduced pursuant to the definition of 'time spent' in FOI Regulations reg 2(2)(b).

The documents in question constitute the source data for a table in an important public report. These documents should have been indexed in the working papers associated with the report, and readily accessible for the purposes of verifying or answering questions about that part of the report.

The Department's filing system ought to have indicated the place where the documents were located. An appropriate series of events would have been:
1. Identify table being asked about. (1 minute)
2. Look up list of tables in working papers or conduct text search on share drive folder (or similar) in relation to the report. (10 minutes)
3. Scroll through list of files on computer to the relevant documents. (1 minute)

An appropriate charge would be for no more than fifteen minutes or $3.75.

An assessment of nearly four hours suggests that officers of the Department had to 'dig' through email archives or similar and ask around a lot, trying to reconstruct how the table in the report was originally put together. Subregulation 2(2) is intended to discourage -- or at least not offer a reward for -- the poor filing which necessitates such unfocused search and retrieval.

The Department's preliminary assessment could only be supported by an explanation of how, exactly, an officer spent three hours, 52 minutes and 12 seconds on a focused search for a small number of known documents in a well-laid-out filing system.

Yours sincerely,

-Pat.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 16961 Communication Charges decision.pdf
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Dear Mr Conheady,

Please see attached correspondence in relation to your request under the
Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

If you have any queries, please email
[1][DHS request email].

 

Kind regards

 

FOI Officer

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division
Department of Human Services
Doris Blackburn Building 18 Canberra Avenue Forrest ACT 2603

[2]cid:image001.png@01CF8C5E.459B3DD0

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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