Travel expenses

P. Gale made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Education

The request was successful.

From: P. Gale

Delivered

FOI Team Leader
Legal and Investigations Group
GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601

Dear FOI Team Leader,

This is a request under the FOI Act for documents. I request
documents (details below) in regards to international travel (no
matter if undertaken or merely booked) by/for employees in the
Senior Executive Service in Higher Education Division/Group area.

I request only documents created in the period May 27th, 2014
to Friday, August 22nd, 2014. I request only those parts of documents that identify the:
(i) name of the Senior Executive Service traveller
(ii) rank/position of the traveller
(iii) total cost of the travel
(iv) purpose of the travel
(v) destination(s) and dates of travel or proposed travel
(vi) date the travel booking was made (if the travel has not yet taken
place)

All else may be redacted. If a document repeats information from
another document, only one document is requested. I have seen that
in the case of similar requests made to Department of Finance in
regards to parliamentary expenses, said department has frequently
reduced costs by preferring to answer the request with a summary
table in place of the original documents.

Thank you.

P. Gale (Mrs)
August 23rd, 2014.

Link to this

From: Education - FOI
Department of Education


Attachment Signed notice of charge Gale.pdf
751K Download View as HTML


For Official Use Only

Dear Mrs Gale

 

Please find attached correspondence regarding your request under the
Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

Kind regards

 

Alexandra Brown

Senior Government Lawyer

Schools, Youth, Child Care, and Corporate Legal Branch

Australian Government Department of Education

(02) 6240 2570 I Ext 42570

Opportunity through learning

Legal in confidence: This transmission is intended only for the use of the
addressee and may contain confidential or legally privileged information.
If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that any use or
dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have
received this transmission in error, please notify us immediately by
telephone and delete copies of this transmission together with any
attachments.

 

Notice:

The information contained in this email message and any attached files may
be confidential information, and may also be the subject of legal
professional privilege. If you are not the intended recipient any use,
disclosure or copying of this email is unauthorised. If you received this
email in error, please notify the sender by contacting the department's
switchboard on 13 33 97 during business hours (8am - 5pm Local time) and
delete all copies of this transmission together with any attachments.

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From: P. Gale

Delivered

To: The FOI Contact Officer
Department of Tertiary Education

Dear FOI Officer,

In regards to my request from August 23rd, 2014 and the letter Ms Alexandra Brown wrote me September 5th, 2014.

Ms Brown says she has assessed a charge of AU$45.00. She also wrote that I may "contend that the charge (i) has been wrongly assessed; or (ii) should be reduced or not imposed; or (iii) both."

I think the charge isn't assessed correctly but, if it is, then it ought be waived.

In regards to the correctness of the assessment, Ms Brown says that it has taken three hours of search and retrieval time. I do not say that is wrong but I think it is excessive. It should not have taken so long. I'd gotten the impression that department's kept good records that can be accessed and searched quickly. Even if there's maybe 12 or 14 SES staff falling in scope of my request, then searching the Tertiary Education department's standard system for travel record expenses oughtn't take three hours. Also if the record system is like the one in most big organizations, there will be an indication of the total cost of travel per trip without having to do manual calculations adding up individual items.

The FOI Commissioner's guidelines say "4.32 An underlying assumption in calculating search and retrieval time is that the agency or minister maintains a high quality record system. Search and retrieval time is to be calculated on the basis that a document will be found in the place indicated in the agency or minister’s filing system (reg 2(2)(a)) or, if no such indication is given, in the place that reasonably should have been indicated in the filing system (reg 2(2)(b)). In summary, applicants cannot be disadvantaged by poor or inefficient record keeping by agencies or ministers. Time wasted by an officer in searching for a document that is not where it ought to be, or that is not listed in the official filing system, cannot be charged to an applicant.[6] For this purpose, the ‘filing system’ of an agency or minister should be taken as including central registries as well as other authorised systems used to record the location of documents."

This means, I think, that it might have taken 3 hours but it is reasonable to expect that it should take much less time.

Also, in regards to if a charge should be imposed at all. I appreciate the decision to impose a charge is discretionary but most other departments (like Finance, for instance) only start charging when total time goes over around five hours. That's true even when applicants have asked for details of travel expenses of the Prime Minister. As you will know, the Commissioner's guidelines say "4.3 A charge must not be used to discourage an applicant from exercising the right of access conferred by the FOI Act." Since the commission of audit, the public have an interest in knowing that everyone is contributing to the austerity measures needed to reduce the budget deficit. Austerity means, in part, not taking unnecessary overseas trips when business could be done more efficiently by email or video linkup. I think then it is appropriate for Tertiary Education to be more open and transparent about what travel is or isn't being made by Senior Executive Officers, so to demonstrate that its staff are contributing to the greater efficiency that Australia needs.

Please reasses the charge. I then request you not to impose it.

Sincerely,

P. Gale (Mrs)
October 5th, 2014.

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From: Education - FOI
Department of Education

For Official Use Only
Dear Ms Gale,

Thank you for your email dated 5 October 2014.

I have reviewed your request that the Department of Education (‘the department’) reconsider imposing a charge for the time taken to search for and retrieve the documents and prepare a summary table of the information you requested under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (‘FOI Act’).

In light of your request, the department proposes the following:

1. That you formally withdraw your request under the FOI Act, and the department would then be prepared to provide the summary table to you outside of the framework of the FOI Act without imposing a charge for the time taken to prepare the table; or

2. You choose to proceed with your request, and the department will continue processing your request and proceed with making a charge decision on the basis of the search and retrieval time taken in relation to the number of documents containing the information you have requested.

I would appreciate your response by COB Wednesday 22 October 2014.

Please contact me on (02) 6240 0303 if you would like to discuss this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Margot

Margot Brown
Principal Government Lawyer
Schools, Youth, Child Care and Corporate Legal Branch, People, Communications and Legal Group Australian Government Department of Education

Email: [email address]
Phone: (02) 6240 0303

GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Location Code: C50MA10

Legal In Confidence - This transmission is intended only for the use of the addressee and may contain confidential or legally privileged information. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that any use or dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify me immediately by telephone and delete copies of this transmission together with any attachments.

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From: P. Gale

Delivered

To: The FOI Contact Officer
Department of Tertiary Education

Dear FOI Officer,

In regards to my request from August 23rd, 2014 and the letter Ms Margot Brown wrote me today, October 20th, 2014.

The suggestion from Ms Brown is very suitable. Thank you. I will be most appreciative to receive the summary table already prepared and I withdraw my FOI request on that basis.

This email address is still the right one.

Sincerely,

P. Gale (Mrs)
October 20th, 2014.

Link to this

From: Education - FOI
Department of Education


Attachment Summary table P.Gale.docx
14K Download View as HTML


For Official Use Only
Dear Mrs Gale,

Thank you for your below email. In accordance with your agreement to withdraw your request and receive this information outside of the FOI Act, please find attached the final version of the summary table.

Regards,

Margot

Margot Brown
Principal Government Lawyer
Schools, Youth, Child Care and Corporate Legal Branch, People, Communications and Legal Group Australian Government Department of Education

Email: [email address]
Phone: (02) 6240 0303

GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Location Code: C50MA10

Legal In Confidence - This transmission is intended only for the use of the addressee and may contain confidential or legally privileged information. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that any use or dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify me immediately by telephone and delete copies of this transmission together with any attachments.

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From: P. Gale

Delivered

To: Ms M. Brown
Department of Tertiary Education

Dear Ms Brown,

I feel you have been very generous. Thank you. I appreciate that you have sent me the summary and also the prompt response.

If you have time to answer a question, I would also appreciate it. Why was it better or easier to give me the document outside of the FOI process? Would it have been better if, from the beginning, I had asked for administrative access and not made an FOI request? I wish only to understand with the prospect of making future requests easier for you and for me.

Sincerely,

P. Gale (Mrs)
October 21th, 2014.

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From: Education - FOI
Department of Education

For Official Use Only
Dear Mrs Gale

Thank you for your comments below. There is no clear rule in relation to whether an FOI or an administrative process is a more appropriate avenue, generally this is considered in the circumstances in each particular case. In this case, as the information you were seeking had been tabulated into a discrete form we considered it would be more useful and appropriate to provide you with this information via an administrative process (as the summary table document did not fall within the scope of your original request).

Regards,

Margot

Margot Brown
Principal Government Lawyer
Schools, Youth, Child Care and Corporate Legal Branch, People, Communications and Legal Group Australian Government Department of Education

Email: [email address]
Phone: (02) 6240 0303

GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Location Code: C50MA10

Legal In Confidence - This transmission is intended only for the use of the addressee and may contain confidential or legally privileged information. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that any use or dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify me immediately by telephone and delete copies of this transmission together with any attachments.

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