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The audit report of multilateral institutions

Peter Timmins made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
This is an application for a copy of the audit report on Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions mentioned and summarised in the speech by the Minister to the National Security College on 16 June.

Please consider this application as a request for Administrative Access which in the circumstances facing agencies at present, can provide a quicker, more flexible and inexpensive alternative to providing access to government information.

Should this not prove possible-please provide reasons-it is an application under the Freedom of information Act.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
FOI Reference: LEX2125

Dear Mr Timmins

Re: Freedom of Information (FOI) Request

Thank you for your e-mail dated 18 June 2020 in which you seek access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to:

“a copy of the audit report on Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions mentioned and summarised in the speech by the Minister to the National Security College on 16 June.”

This e-mail sets out some information about how your request will be processed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Searches are now being undertaken in relevant areas of the Department for documents relevant to your request.

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.

Timeframe for receiving our decision:
We received your request on 18 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 20 July 2020. The period of 30 days may be extended in certain circumstances. We will advise you if any extension of time is required.

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, we 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.

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) or equivalent. 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 [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.

Personal Information:
If we need to consult with other people or organisations regarding your FOI request, we may need to disclose your personal information (e.g. your name). When we consult it may be apparent that you have made a request, even if we do not disclose your identity. Please let us know if you have any concerns in this regard. The Department’s privacy policy is available at dfat.gov.au/privacy.html.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us by return e-mail at [DFAT request email].

Yours sincerely

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,

Thank you for the acknowledgement.

Please note these responses to two matters raised:
. that the Department issues charges for processing FOI requests.
. the Department’s policy to withhold the names of non-SES officials.

Charges
The statement that 'the Department issues charges for processing requests' is a blanket statement that presumably applies to processing all requests.

Guidance issued by the Australian Information Commissioner and to which an agency must have regard states (Part 4) agencies may, if "an applicant requests access" decide to impose a charge or not impose a charge for the staff time and resources expended in processing an FOI request (s 8 of the Charges Regulations).

As the Guidance makes clear, there is no obligation to impose a charge.

As with any discretion, a decision to issue a charge or not issue a charge for processing the application must be undertaken fairly and reasonably, and as the guidance further stipulates requires consideration of the ‘lowest reasonable cost’ objective in s 3 of the act in deciding whether a charge is warranted.

In my submission, a charge for processing an application for one clearly identified document, the audit report on Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions, is not warranted.

The decision to issue charges for processing a request is separate from any later consideration of a contention by an applicant that a charge the agency may decide to issue be reduced or waived. (Guidance 4.19)

Names on non-SES officials
While it is unlikely that any such names appear in the document sought, names of officials of any rank are not excluded from the scope of the request.

The Departmental policy mentioned in the acknowledgment is inconsistent with Guidance issued by the Australian Information Commissioner (6.154)
"When considering whether it would be unreasonable to disclose the names of public servants, there is no basis under the FOI Act for agencies to start from the position that the classification level of a departmental officer determines whether his or her name would be unreasonable to disclose."

Any redaction of names of officials should be based on a claim for exemption.

Thank you.

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Attachment LEX2125 Charges Letter.pdf
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OFFICIAL
FOI Reference: LEX2125

Dear Mr Timmins

Please see attached the charges letter in relation to your FOI request.

Please note that the processing period to assess your request is put on hold until we receive your payment of the deposit/payment in full of the charge.

Yours sincerely

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Thank you for the message providing your estimate of charges and requesting payment of the deposit.

The charges for processing are not broken down. Presumably little if any time is involved in searching for and identifying the one document requested- the Audit of Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions as described by the Minister in her speech to the National Security College on 16 June.

The decision to impose a charge is a rejection of my submission that you exercise the discretion conferred by the legislation and not charge in this instance.

No reasons are given.

These are difficult times.

Not charging would save time and the costs associated with collecting a deposit of less than $30 and the estimated balance of $100 down the track. And dare I say paying it back if you doin’t meet the statutory deadline-no offence.

Public interest considerations would be relevant to the exercise of discretion this way as well.

A similar reduced cost would result if the application had been processed as an Administrative Access request which hasn’t been mentioned either since I raised this possibility initially.

The thought was this might be beneficial all round in current circumstance. Administrative Access is not mentioned on the DFAT website despite the urging and encouragement from the Information Commissioner for agencies to provide such a mechanism where practicable https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-infor...

However moving on following the decision to charge, the act provides me the opportunity to seek a reduction or waiver-more of your time/cost I’m afraid-see above.

Financial hardship and public interest in giving of access are grounds specifically mentioned in Section 29(5) but the section makes it clear the agency is not limited to those matters in determining whether or not to reduce or not impose the charge.

I’m unsure whether this is the basis for the invitation on the DFAT website under Charges for applicants seeking a reduction or waiver to send "a copy of your current Health Care Card.”

I hold a Commonwealth Seniors Heath Card and will send a copy by separate email.

Maybe that’s enough for you to waive the charge.

Thanks, if so.

But in the event you want more and bearing in mind the remarks and decision of the Information Commissioner in Emmanuel Freudenthal and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Freedom of information) [2019] AICmr 15 (29 April 2019), and the former Commissioner in Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Freedom of information) [2017] AICmr 131, I submit the following.

Financial hardship- what can you say? Who isn’t experiencing financial hardship at the moment?

As a self funded retiree my super and savings have taken a hammering, no worse than many or most but I won’t make a special case out of that.

There is in any event a strong general public interest in giving access to the document, given what the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs have said recently about foreign policy, Australia’s participation in international organisations and the audit.

Giving of access to the document would help inform the community of the Government’s conduct of international affairs, contribute to debate on a matters of public importance, enable scrutiny of performance in the achievement of government policies and goals.

Without access to the document I can’t say with certainty what it contains but I expect it provides information about the overall cost of Australian participation in multilateral institutions, information not readily available elsewhere. It's likely a sizeable sum-Australia contributed $62 million alone to the regular budget of the UN in January.

There is a public interest in transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.

As far as I am aware the speeches by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs contain the only information available about the audit.Both have emphasised publicly why the underlying issue is of major significance in the conduct of foreign policy.

The Prime Minister in his speech to the Lowy institute on 3 October 2019 referred to the challenges that arise in "living in a world in transition”, that "we’ve not been as involved as we could be” in some international organisations, Australia "cannot afford to leave it to others to set the standards that will shape our global economy”, and that he had tasked DFAT with preparing "a comprehensive audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where we have the greatest stake.”

The Minister on 16 June provided some information about the audit: that it "took stock of where and why Australia is engaging, and how we can best target our efforts to support our interests. It affirmed that multilateral organisations, especially international standard-setting bodies, create rules that are vital to Australia's security, interests, values and prosperity. Those bodies regulate international cooperation in key sectors of our economy including civil aviation, maritime transport, intellectual property, telecommunications, agriculture. They promote universal values and play critical roles in responding to emerging global challenges, from the regulation of cyber security and maintaining a peaceful outer space, to outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19.”

I could quote from the speech at length- but you have it available to you anyway- about why the government attaches importance to multilateralism: the audit "recognised the pressure these bodies are under, and that at times, their performance has struggled to deliver on their agreed mandates”, and that notwithstanding "the limitations identified by the audit” "Australia's interests are not served by stepping away and leaving others to shape global order for us.”

As the Minister concluded on this topic:
"Australia will continue to work to ensure global institutions are fit-for-purpose, relevant, contemporary, accountable to member states, free from undue influence, and have an appropriately strong focus on the Indo-Pacific. We will continue to support reform efforts in the United Nations and its agencies to improve transparency, accountability and effectiveness. This is foreign policy designed to use Australian influence and agency to shape a safer world, and to make us safer at home. We will target our efforts to preserve three fundamental parts of the multilateral system:the rules that protect sovereignty, preserve peace, and curb excessive use of power, and enable international trade and investment, the international standards related to health and pandemics, to transport, telecommunications and other issues that underpin the global economy, and which will be vital to a post-COVID-19 economic recovery and thirdly, the norms that underpin universal human rights, gender equality and the rule of law.
Moreover, we will work to ensure that the development of new rules and norms to address emerging challenges is consistent with enduring values and principles."

Suffice to say all this sounds of utmost importance to national interests, interests best served by transparency and accountability and public engagement in pursuing and protecting those interests.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Peter Timmins

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,

A long silence since my message of 9 July and my submission regarding charges??
Please let me know where things stand.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


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Attachment LEX2125 Charges Decision Letter.pdf
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OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2125

 

Dear Mr Timmins,

 

Please see attached correspondence in relation to your request for a
waiver of charges.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

DFAT FOI Team

[1]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[2]DFAT.GOV.AU | [3]Twitter | [4]Facebook | [5]Flickr | [6]YouTube

 

[7]cid:image002.png@01D60752.779EB210

 

 

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Chase Holland left an annotation ()

Hi Peter, are you able to update as to whether this request has moved ahead? I am similarly seeking to access this document.

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Peter Timmins left an annotation ()

Chase Holland, I'm tempted to contest the decision to waive 50% of the charges not 100% because the strange language about the importance of charges doesn't reflect guidance issued by the OAIC and in my view the public interest considerations are strong. On the other hand a review burns up time and results in further delay on the more important issue of availability of the report. So still mulling....

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Gee, I'm sorely tempted to seek a review, given the reasoning provided, but in the interests of time, I'll pay up.

Your message does not mention how to go about this.

Nor does the website.

Please inform.

Thanks.

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Attachment LEX2125 payment methods.pdf
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OFFICIAL
Dear Mr Timmins,

Please see attached available payment methods.

Yours sincerely

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Paid the full amount today:
Payee
Details of Payee account
To
Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade 092-009 110329
Reference FOI Ref:LEX2125
Description FOI Ref:LEX2125
Payment details
Other details for payment
Amount $54.33
Payment method Osko
Scheduled payment date 19 Aug 2020

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Attachment image001.jpg
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Attachment image002.png
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OFFICIAL

FOI Reference: LEX2125

 

Dear Mr Timmins,

 

I refer to your access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to:

 

“a copy of the audit report on Australia’s engagement in key multilateral
institutions mentioned and summarised in the speech by the Minister to the
National Security College on 16 June.”

 

I am writing to request an extension of time of 30 days to process the
request in accordance with section 15AA of the FOI Act. If you agree to
the extension, the revised due date for the request will be 30 September
2020. DFAT will endeavour to provide you with a decision in response to
the request by that date.

 

While the searches in relation to the request have been undertaken and the
material falling within the request is currently under consideration, the
department will be unable to finalise the request within the statutory
timeframe.

 

I would be grateful if you would please confirm your agreement to this
request for an extension by return email by 12pm Monday, 31 August 2020.

 

If you agree to my request for an extension, I will advise the Office of
the Australian Information Commissioner accordingly.

 

Of course, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in
touch.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

DFAT FOI Team

[1]cid:image001.png@01D349A2.74F24380

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
[2]DFAT.GOV.AU | [3]Twitter | [4]Facebook | [5]Flickr | [6]YouTube

 

[7]cid:image002.png@01D60752.779EB210

 

 

 

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
I understand its a difficult time all round but even in these trying circumstances an additional 30 days to process the application seems unreasonable and unwarranted.

You have had this application since 18 June-70 days, 50 if we are more generous than the FOI act and exclude weekends from the equation.

Your request for extension is under S15AA but I'm wondering if we are already in deemed refusal' territory? Your initial calculation was a response was due by 20 July but exchanges about charges extended this. Please let me have what your record shows at present regarding time for a decision.

The request is for access to one document, clearly described by title and publicly referred to in that way by the Minister, so it is reassuring that 'the searches in relation to the request have been undertaken"and that "the material falling within the request (ie one document) is currently under consideration." I can't see how this might render the request complex or voluminous. I'm hoping for a decision any day now.

I do not agree to any extension.

Cheers

Peter Timmins

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From: FOI
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OFFICIAL
Dear Mr Timmins,

As outlined in our letter to you of 7 July 2020, under Section 31 of the FOI Act, the 30-day processing period to assess your request is put on hold until the department receives a payment of the deposit/full payment of charges, or the department decides not to impose a charge. Accordingly, the processing period for your FOI request was restarted on the day you paid the charges (19 August), and the initial processing period was due to end today, 31 August 2020.

I confirm that I have written to OAIC today to seek an extension for a further 30 days to process your request in accordance with section 15AB of the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

DFAT FOI Team

Freedom of Information and Privacy Law Section
Legal Division | Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DFAT.GOV.AU | Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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Peter Timmins left an annotation ()

This application for one-repeat one-document has been with DFAT since 18 June. Some days were taken up with back and forward about charges. I did not agree last week to an extension. On the due date DFAT has asked the OAIC for another 30 days. Complex or voluminous?? Let's see.

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From: Peter Timmins

Delivered

Dear FOI,
Can you let me know where things stand?
Nothing heard from OAIC about your application so I'm thinking an extension was not granted? Deemed refusal?
Refund the charges paid?

Yours sincerely,

Peter Timmins

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From: Carl English


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Attachment RQ20 03175 Extension of time under s 15AB.pdf
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Our reference: RQ20/03175

Agency reference: LEX2125

Mr Peter Timmins

 

Sent by email: [FOI #6413 email]

Extension of time under s 15AB

Dear Mr Timmins

Please find correspondence in relation to your FOI request to the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade attached.

Kind regards

[1][IMG]   Carl English  | Review Adviser (Legal)

Freedom of Information Dispute
Resolution

Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner

GPO Box 5218 Sydney NSW 2001  |
 [2]oaic.gov.au

+61 2 9284 9745  | 
[3][email address]
[4][IMG] | [5][IMG] | [6][IMG] |    

 

 

 

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Peter Timmins left an annotation ()

OAIC decline DFAT request for extension of time for processing the application (for one document) putting it in deemed refusal territory and no processing charges, so a refund to come of the payment made after much back and forward from 7 July-19 August.
Time and resources eaten up unnecessarily when DFAT went down this path as they have but apparently never exercise the discretion available not to charge, preferring to ague that charges are a vital element of the FOI scheme.
FOI Act Objects reminder:
The Parliament also intends that functions and powers given by this Act are to be performed and exercised, as far as possible, to facilitate and promote public access to information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.

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