Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Administration of Australian gongs a matter of administration?
Transparency in the administration of the Australian honours awards was the issue du jour at the Senate Estimates Committee hearing this week on the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor General. Questions were raised about this Freedom of Information case now before the AAT in which the FOI commissioner upheld a claim that documents requested were outside the scope of the act. Something of a stand-off, just short of a public interest immunity claim followed a request by Senator Ronaldson, taken on notice, for the policy manual and other documents used in decision making to be made available to the committee. As Senator Ryan and the chair pointed out refusal of access under FOI is not in itself grounds for refusal to comply with a request for documents by a member of a parliamentary committee.
Things have moved quite a way from the original position that saw the Official Secretary claim the honours secretariat was not subject to the FOI act. Having shifted on that, the FOI issue now in contention in the AAT is whether the requested documents held by staff employed under the Governor General Act including the Official Secretary who doubles as Secretary to the Council for the Order of Australia are "documents of an administrative nature", and thus within scope, or whether the FOI commissioner's decision they aren't stands. That's before any exemption argument. A public interest immunity claim would rest on other grounds. The Official Secretary said the office has spent 3000 hours to date on the various Freedom of Information applications and reviews by this applicant.