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Monday, July 04, 2011

FOI hits and misses

Busy FOI days, resulting in these significant disclosures:

Documents obtained by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre "show the Australian Government deliberately tried to avoid its obligations under international law in relation to detainees caught by the Australia Defence Force (ADF) in Afghanistan and Iraq." (The Sydney Morning Herald reports the documents were released after a five year Freedom of Information battle-I've asked PIAC for information about this.)

Documents released to the Sunday Age reveal that not one of the more than 200 asylum seeker boats that landed in Australia in the past two years has been detected by the defence radar system, raising questions about border security.

Documents released to Fairfax disclose two Australian employees of Qantas detained for six months in Vietnam were released after the airline agreed to a secret ''commercial package'' with the investment arm of the country's government. ( As to what wasn't revealed:"Fairfax sought access to 18 cables sent in June last year detailing the events that led to their release. But DFAT has declared 12 of the cables so sensitive that they should be kept secret, while the remaining six have been heavily censored. Qantas told the department it wants the cables kept secret because it believes they could damage relations with its business partners in Vietnam and other regions. DFAT cited concerns the cables could damage Australia's relations with Vietnam.")

Sydney Morning Herald Business Day obtained a copy of the expert panel's review of six proposals, including Telstra's to operate the government's broadband network, a process that led to the creation of NBN Co.

And sweet vindication for Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie of The Age for two years of sleuthing into the affairs of the Reserve Bank owned companies Securency (half) and Note Printing Australia, leading to news of charges of foreign bribery against executives and the companies. FOI has been a friend and a frustration on the journey.

On the other hand in the last week or so:

The Canberra Times lamented the excessive secrecy surrounding hygiene standards in ACT restaurants. "Health officials have now twice rejected this newspaper's freedom of information requests for the names of eateries whose hygiene practices last year were so poor they were temporarily shut down. In both cases, bureaucrats exercised discretionary powers to suppress the names; initially arguing the publicity would ''unreasonably'' harm the businesses, and then arguing public naming might undermine the fairness of a later trial.
There is no ACT law that specifically prevents these food outlets from being named. Rather, we, the public, are once again the victims of a notion often held by bureaucrats: that the community is either too ignorant or too irrational to be trusted with the information it rightly owns. This newspaper, and the public at large, understands that many of those businesses will, by now, have improved their practices. But by continuing to shield them from scrutiny, the Government has opted against sending the food industry a cheap, powerful message it needs to heed, which would have done much to improve public safety."

The Advertiser-$12,000 to reveal charges on police-reported SA Police saying it will take 100 hours to find details of charges against 29 of its officers." Police say they cannot easily or quickly collate the information - or find details of other "breaches of conduct" by any of its 4400 officers - as the records are "not stored together" in its database.The Advertiser lodged a Freedom of Information application, requesting details of the alleged criminal offences, which occurred last year. The SA Police FoI unit's response was that searching for details of the criminal charges and all breaches of conduct by officers would take 287 hours of staff work - and cost The Advertiser $12,283.60. The officer said the paper chase would "take a long time" as it required a manual search of files."
And to reinforce the "business as usual" mood in Victoria,The Herald Sun-"Ted new king of spin Coalition surrounds itself with advisers"- 23 June,no link available-- said "the Victorian Government won't release details about the number of staff employed in the Premier's Office as the request did not relate to the affairs of an agency. An updated Ministerial Media Contact List shows the Coalition employs 21 spin doctors, including media unit head Josephine Cafagna, whose name does not appear on the list. At the peak of its powers before last year's election, the Brumby media unit consisted of 22 advisers -- one more than the Coalition, which has built up its numbers since winning office.The Coalition, despite promising to be more transparent, has refused Freedom of Information requests to release details about the number of staff employed by the Office of Premier and Cabinet and their salaries.After dealing with unrelenting attacks on its reliance on media manipulation while in power, Labor scrutiny of government spokesman Martin Pakula said the spinning wheel had come full circle."The refusal by the Premier to reveal which political staff are employed in his office and what they are paid shows that his promise to cut ministerial staff numbers was just hollow spin," Mr Pakula said."He may be employing just as many and paying them twice as much and there is nothing open or transparent about the Premier using his private staff to knock back legitimate FoI requests."A Labor FoI request for details about the Coalition's staff was rejected because the Government decided the request did not "relate to the affairs of an agency", raising questions about for whom the staff work."


  1. Anonymous3:38 pm

    Thanks for the nice update.

  2. From 8pm tonight, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre will publish further details about its FOI project and the Department of Defence. The documents raise substantial questions about detention and interrogation practices at Abu Grahib. The site goes live at 8pm, on