What's the story?
"it is important that the good relations enjoyed by Australian Government officials with persons holding senior public positions of authority in those countries are maintained to ensure their willingness to cooperate and communicate with Australian government officials in future. In my view, release of this material could compromise the effectiveness of our post in undertaking its responsibilities to Australian citizens in dealing with the authorities. it could also undermine the Government's relations with particular countries, impairing that relationship and possibly relationships with other governments in those regions."
Mr Trindade determined this information concerned the business affairs of an organisation and if disclosed could be expected to unreasonably affect it in respect of its lawful business affairs, and would be contrary to the public interest. He wrote that he decided to exempt the name of an organisation
"that has private commercial dealings with DFAT... In my view, releasing the identity of this company would involve the unreasonable disclosure of the commercial activities of that company.The public interest factors in favour of release, including the right of the public to access Government held documents, are outweighed by the importance of that company's right to conduct its business affairs and dealings in private."
And regarding the disclosure of the name of a company conducting what was described as "private" business with a government agency, the usual expectation would be that this would not be sensitive or cause damage to the company if disclosed. Most companies shout the fact they have a government client from the roof top. In addition details of contracts for more than $10,000 are available online on the Austender website. All that was before we got to new legislated public interest factors that, since 1 November, weigh in favour of disclosure and were not mentioned in the decision letter.
The original determination was consistent with other developments such as DFAT's decision, in contrast to about a dozen other agencies, not to publish anything contained in the incoming government brief (the Red Book) prepared in the lead up to last year's election.
Managing foreign policy and the conduct of international relations against the backdrop of changing attitudes to openness and transparency here and in the world around us will require a significant shift for DFAT and other agencies with a stake.Tone at the top, leadership, example, the ability to get the balance right between the need for secrecy, the maintenance of our relations with others and the demands for openness-as well as full and enthusiastic implementation of the new FOI law- all need to become part of DFAT's agenda.
More in another post soon about DFAT's preparedness for FOI change.