(Update: Philip Dorling of Fairfax has obtained some heavily redacted documents.)
Senator Ludlam queried whether a decision on an FOI application should be made by the same person who authored the documents or was substantively involved in the matter in question, and in any event whether such an "interest" should be disclosed to the FOI applicant.
So it is common for the decision maker to have been involved in work of the department that is reflected in the documents which are subject to the request. That said, a decision maker, in order to perform their functions properly, needs to be in a position to meet all the requirements of administrative law, including bringing an impartial mind to their functions. So, from time to time, if the subject matter of a request goes particularly to the personal involvement of the decision maker, the decision maker might say that they do not think it appropriate for them to make a decision. In that case, we would look for an alternative decision maker.
I do not think that it is an unreasonable point you raise and I am happy to refer to the minister for FOI the issue. I think it is the case though that where there is some expertise in a department the request tends to go to the officer with that expertise or in that particular section. To exclude people who have worked on those policy matters from being involved in an FOI request is, I think, unrealistic, particularly in small departments. The other thing I would say is I have had a concern, as have other cabinet ministers, that sometimes these decisions have been made at too low a level of officers without the appropriate sort of experience and broader understanding both to refuse and to release—and a couple of them have come as great surprises to the ministers who have not been told they had been released. But I think the point about potential conflict of interest is a fair one and I suppose I am happy to raise it with the minister. I do though make the point that in a smaller section everyone would have been involved in dealing with the issue. If you have got a section of four people who have expertise in the area they all would have been involved in dealing with it, so it is not quite as simple as might first appear. But I am happy to do that. I think it is a reasonable point. I think the officer was explaining that it is a sort of decision that the officer themself made and I guess you are looking for reassurance that that is the appropriate way of dealing with it.
I only wanted to make the general point that the officer does not make this decision on their own. They are in regular communication and in receipt of advice from the FOI experts in the department led by Mr Amson who carefully explain to the decision maker the application of the act and the way the relevant exemptions have to be interpreted, so it is not a decision that a person is taking in the absence of guidance about the FOI Act itself.