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Friday, February 05, 2021

Senator Patrick chalks up important FOI win

He''s a vigilant determined defender of the spirit and intent of freedom of information.

May the wind be at his back!

In the Senate on Tuesday Senator Rex Patrick recounted a drawn out and eventually unsuccessful attempt by the Department of Prime Minister to deny access to the complete performance audit report into the handling of a $1.3 billion dollar Defence contract for the procurement of the Hawkei light protected mobility vehicle from Thales Australia Ltd. 

The government had refused to table the complete report in response to a Senate Order; Attorney General Porter issued a (rare?unprecedented?) certificate under the Auditor General's Act preventing disclosure of parts of the report on public interest grounds; and various FOI exemption claims, some dropped on the way, were advanced on this journey to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Deputy President Britten-Jones concluded no additional harm to national security or Thales commercial interests would result from disclosure, given information already in the public domain in a redacted version of the report, and information made available by Thales when it commenced Federal Court proceedings in January 2018. 

The Deputy President[ 70-78] was dismissive of another claim that the Auditor General's analysis and conclusions involved deliberative processes: "Rather than disclosing a deliberative process, the Redacted Report discloses a final conclusion based on an analysis of factual findings.....Section 47C does not operate to disallow access to a report of this nature generated by an independent officer of the Parliament exercising his statutory functions. The Disputed Material is not conditionally exempt under s 47C(1) of the FOI Act."

Senator Patrick posted the report and relevant documentation following notification the decision will not be appealed, observing

"In this matter the Attorney-General’s judgement was clearly unsound. He was  incapable of properly assessing national security claims This raises a most serious question - what else has the Attorney-General got wrong in the national security space?”


Senator Patrick in the Senate 2 February