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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

RSI in the name of FOI?

 The Age reports the Institute of Public Affairs has received a "warning from the Department of Climate Change" after it submitted more than 750 freedom-of-information requests in four months, more than 95 per cent of FOI requests lodged with the department since April.
The department last week wrote to the institute's director of climate change policy, Tim Wilson, and asked that he stop submitting requests so it could deal with the backlog..... If the volume of applications continued the department would consider whether dealing with Mr Wilson's requests was an unreasonable diversion of resources - a step that could lead to him being considered a vexatious applicant. It is believed Mr Wilson submitted about 440 information requests on one day in late July and more than 140 on one day last week.
The FOI reforms of last year saw two new provisions relevant to this situation.

The first, regarding diversion of resources is a variation of the longstanding ground for refusing to deal with a request (section 24) because it would involve "substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources." A new section 24AA spells out the detail of what is involved, as explained in the Australian Information Commissioner's Guidelines.

The other is the power conferred on the Information Commissioner to make a vexatious applicant declaration  Section 89L sets out the grounds which relevantly include where an applicant makes requests that are manifestly unreasonable. This Guideline explains.

The Queensland RTI act (s114) contains a similar provision.
(Update: On a related issue the Queensland Commissioner recently published a research paper on repeat applicants for external review, defined as applicants who make a relatively large number of applications, submit them in short bursts of activity and engage in ‘unreasonable conduct’. The research examined external reviews finalised under the Freedom of Information Act 1992, the Right to Information Act 2009 or the Information Privacy Act 2009 between 1 July 2006 and 21 February 2011. Excluding journalists and parliamentarians, nine who made 10 or more applications included one with 87 involving 15 government agencies/ministers and others with 54 and 45 applications. "Overall, the result is that repeat applicants have a detrimental impact on the equitable access of other persons to external review of access and amendment decisions in Queensland.")

The NSW GIPA act (s 110 ) confers power on the Administrative Decisions Tribunal  to make an order restraining a person making unmeritorious applications.

The Tasmanian RTI act (s20) goes further simply authorising an agency or minister to refuse an application on the basis it is a vexatious application.

I'm yet to hear of an application for an order or declaration or of reliance on the relevant section in Tasmania. 750 applications in four months might be nudging things along.

Universiteit Utrecht
With 440 applications in one day I hope Wilson is full bottle on RSI.
(Further Update: The Australian editorialises "there can never be anything vexatious about exercising the public's right to know. No ifs, no buts." Others might suggest that high minded principle needs to be considered in context, in light of what is requested-and that size does matter.


  1. Anonymous3:01 pm

    He has engaged in this nasty behaviour before, look at a document on twitter declaring it hate mail.

    idiotic and dangerous stuff for the i.p.a's reputation.

  2. Is it possible to submit a FOI request asking what the "750 freedom-of-information requests" were? That might show clearly for all to see if the 'requests' were mischievous (especially the 440 in one day)! Maybe Mr Wilson is happy to publish them himself....

  3. Possible by all means, should you have the energy.

  4. Anonymous12:47 pm

    vexatious behavior+ obsessive compulsive= political bully?

    Is there a correlation between this and the above disorder Peter?

  5. Way beyond my area of expertise.

  6. Anonymous11:53 am

    Peter ,looking at todays power list by paul barry look at the characteristics that makes someone successful in politics.

    Not a far stretch is it? cheers mate!!

  7. Hmm Barry's essentials:
    "Australia's political powerbrokers usually fit a profile. They're almost all men, for a start. But most of them also:

    • have huge egos

    • can charm for Australia

    • can do menace just as well

    • live their lives for politics

    • have energy to burn

    • never forget a favour

    • never forgive a slight

    • know how to network

    • know how to deal"