This blog takes an interest in issues associated with Freedom of Information (FOI) and privacy legislation in Australia. Information contained on this site is general in nature and does not constitute legal
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Tuesday, January 04, 2011
DFAT Red book on the other hand is SECRET AUSTEO
Despite the lead by 11 other Commonwealth agencies in releasing parts of the incoming government brief, including Defence and PM&C, and recent insights into departmental views as reported to Washington by the US Embassy Canberra, courtesy of WikiLeaks, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade apparently sees no scope for publishing anything along these lines, letting pass the opportunity to contribute to informed discussion and debate. See my comment in November about the challenge of open government for DFAT. WikILeaks since has reinforced the need for more open sharing of honest assessments by the Australian Government of international developments and the manner in which it pursues Australia's interests. The idea that every last word of the brief deserves SECRET AUSTEO (Australian Eyes Only) classification is ridiculous
Senators Fielding and Trood asked separate questions of the Department about the brief at Senate estimates. Answers to questions on notice were provided to the Committee on 10 December.
Here is Q&A 14. Senator Fielding asked:
A. Did the department prepare a post-election brief for a returned Labor Government (the so-called ‘Red Book’)?
B. Can the department provide the committee with a copy of this brief?
C. If not, can the department outline its reasons for refusing to provide a copy of this brief?
D. If the department will not provide a copy of this brief because it contains confidential or sensitive information, can the department provide a redacted copy of this brief as was done by the Treasury Department?
E. Has the Minister given any instructions to the department regarding the release of this brief and if so, what were these instructions?
F. Did the department prepare a post-election brief for a newly elected Coalition Government (the ‘Blue Book’)?
G. Can the department provide the committee with a copy of this brief?
H. If not, can the department outline its reasons for refusing to provide a copy of this brief?
I. If the department will not provide a copy of this brief because it contains confidential or sensitive information, can the department provide a redacted copy of this brief as was done by the Treasury Department?
J. Has the Minister given any instructions to the department regarding the release of this brief and if so, what were these instructions?
C. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not make public the policy advice it provides in confidence to portfolio ministers. The brief in question is classified SECRET AUSTEO.
H. The brief in question is classified SECRET AUSTEO.
Senator Trood asked a similar question (21) and received the same answer.
He also asked this related question (32) about Freedom of Information applications, including those received for the brief, which the Department said are still being processed (they sound long overdue), thus "it is not possible to state when, or if, the briefs will be released." The earlier answers seem to have said it all.
A. Has the Department/agency received any advice from the Government or any other source on how to respond to FOI requests?
B. How many FOI requests has the Department received?
C. How many have been granted or denied?
D. How many conclusive certificates have been issued in relation to FOI requests?
E. Has the Department/agency received any FOI requests for its Incoming Government Brief (‘Red Book’)? If yes, when and will it be released? F. Has the Department/agency received any FOI requests for its Incoming Government Brief (‘Blue Book’)? If yes, when and will it be released?
A. Ministers have no part in decisions made in individual FOI requests, and the Department does not seek guidance from Ministers when responding to FOI requests. FOI Guidelines for all Government agencies have been issued by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and are available online at www.dpmc.gov.au/foi/guidlines.cfm . This website also contains information on the changes to the FOI Act that came into effect on 1 November 2010. DFAT refers to this resource when responding to FOI requests. DFAT receives legal advice from time to time from external legal advisers, including the Australian Government Solicitors, on specific FOI matters. The Department has also received briefings from the Information Commissioner.
B&C In 2009-10 a total of 110 FOI requests were received, of which 85 were granted and 25 denied; and from 1 July to 12 November 2010 a total of 45 were received, of which 6 have so far been granted and 4 denied (with 34 still to be processed).
E&;F The Department has received five requests for its incoming Government ‘Red Book’ briefs. These include one request for part of only the Foreign Affairs Minister’s brief, one request for the whole of only the Foreign Affairs Minister’s brief and three requests for all of the briefs for both the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministers. One of these requests was also for the incoming government ‘Blue Book’ briefs for both the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministers. As all these requests are still being considered, in accordance with the FOI Act, it is not possible to state when, or if, the briefs will be released.
I'm waiting for a response from DFAT to an FOI application in November foraccess to documents identifying Issues for DFAT policies, procedures and practices regarding disclosure of information arising from the Government’s FOI reforms, and any work undertaken to compare DFAT/Australian Government approaches to disclosure of information about foreign policy/international relations issues with countries such as the US, the UK, Canada or New Zealand. I've (reluctantly) agreed to an extension of time to 14 January, but managed to get a waiver of all charges on public interest grounds.