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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

FOI search processes short of exemplary

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is always under FOI pressure, with a continuing large stream of applications, so the department may take some momentary comfort from this Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling that all reasonable steps had been taken to identify relevant documents in a Freedom of Information case. Until it gets to the last paragraph of the decision where Member Webb comments about the processes that led to discovery of additional documents well after the initial search of the four relevant (of 138!) departmental systems:
34. Before concluding it remains to observe that the manner of the Department’s response to Mr Zhang’s request, and the thoroughness of the initial searches that were conducted, is less than exemplary. One can understand Mr Zhang’s frustration at the initial results he obtained from the Department. No good reason has been advanced why only one file was identified in the initial searches that were conducted. Similarly, no reasonable explanation has been provided why the subsequent searches conducted by Ms Selvadoss and others in the Freedom of Information Access Team failed to identify documents that were within the Department’s ExecCorro system. These are matters of concern for the Department to consider in relation to the management of its obligations and responsibilities under the Act. It should not be necessary for a dispute under the Act to come before the Tribunal before adequate searches are conducted.
Three years ago, then Ombudsman Professor McMillan made some observations about systemic problems in FOI processing in the department.

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