Annual Report 2004-2005
 

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 3 > Output 3.1 > 3.1.3 Freedom of information and archival research and clearance

OUTPUT 3.1: Public information services and public diplomacy

3.1.3 Freedom of information and archival research and clearance

On this page: Freedom of Information :: Freedom of information requests :: Privacy Act 1988 :: Historical publications and information :: Historical research and access :: Corporate records

Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 extends to the Australian community the right to obtain access to information held by the Australian Government. Access is limited only by exemptions protecting essential public interests and the business and private affairs of people about whom departments and statutory authorities may hold information.

The department processed 87 requests from the public during the review period, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year. Around one-third of these applications were complex requests for a substantial volume of information on sensitive topics. The limited number of applications not completed within the statutory deadline generally reflected the volume or complexity of the information requested. In these cases we kept applicants advised of progress.

The department strengthened its capacity to meet obligations under the Act by providing training to all officers at the director and senior executive level on their responsibilities under the Act. The department was proactive in managing FOI applications, liaising closely with applicants in an effort to better meet their requests for information. Where appropriate, senior departmental staff briefed applicants outside the formal FOI process, achieving an improved service from the applicants' perspective. A significant outcome of the department's handling of FOI applications was that no appeals were made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and there were only seven applications for internal review. Only one complaint was made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about the department's handling of an application. After the department explained its position to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, further enquiries ceased.

The department also met its obligations under Sections 8 and 9 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The department's Section 8 statement is at Appendix 5.

TABLE 13. REQUESTS PROCESSED UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 1982
  2004–05 2003–04 2002–03
Requests for information
Access granted in full 22 13 8
Access granted in part 21 27 19
Access refused 26 22 20
Requests transferred or withdrawn 18 16 16
Total 87 78 63
Requests subject to review or legal appeal
Subject to internal review (s.54) 7 9 5
Subject to AAT appeal (s.55) 0 3 1
Ombudsman 1 1 3

Freedom of information requests

Of the 87 FOI requests processed, 79 were not subject to review or appeal.

Privacy Act 1988

No complaints were received in the department under the Privacy Act 1988 during the reporting period.

Historical publications and information

The department continued to research and prepare publications on Australia's foreign and trade policy history. These publications are an important resource for scholars and also help to explain the department's functions and activities to the public.

In September 2004, the department launched a new historical monograph series, Australia in the world: The Foreign Affairs and Trade files. The first publication in this series was Australia and the origins of the Pacific Islands Forum, published to commemorate the 35th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Apia. In November 2004, the department published the proceedings of the Seventh International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents, a conference we hosted in 2003 in Canberra.

Showing the links between historical accounts of foreign policy and today's foreign policy priorities, Mr Downer launched Documents on Australian Foreign Policy: Australia and the Formation of Malaysia, 1961–1966 at the Australia–Malaysia Free Trade Agreement Conference in Melbourne in March 2005. The publication was also launched in Malaysia, an event which underscored the real and sustained contributions Australia made to Malaysia in its formative years. The Prime Minister, Mr Howard presented a copy of the volume to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Badawi during the latter's visit to Australia.

Mr Downer also launched Documents on Australian Foreign Policy: Australia and the Colombo Plan, 1949–1957. This book documents the role played by the Australian Government in conceiving and implementing the British Commonwealth (and later international) plan to provide economic and technical assistance to developing countries in South and South-East Asia.

We continued research towards production of other publications, including Australia and the Independence of Papua New Guinea, Australia and the Cairns Group, and Australia and Japan.

Historical research and access

Departmental records more than 30 years old are available for public access under the Archives Act 1983. Before public access the National Archives of Australia refers highly-classified records back to the department for expert assessment regarding sensitivities relating to intelligence, security, defence or international relations.

Table 14 outlines requests assessed by the department under the Archives Act. We received 505 files from the National Archives to be assessed for public access. Including outstanding file requests from 2003–04, 572 files were completed, with 271 containing at least one exemption on national security or international relations grounds. We referred 34 files to other agencies (ASIO and the Department of Defence) and 14 requests to foreign governments (United Kingdom, United States, Canada and New Zealand) for clearance. We completed 19 requests for clearance from foreign governments (United Kingdom and United States) and 28 requests from other agencies. There were two requests for internal review and no appeals against our decisions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We granted three applications for special or privileged access to records not available to the public.

The department successfully reduced the backlog of files that had been received from the National Archives for access examination and also completed other access review work equivalent to 80 files (45 000 folios).

TABLE 14. REQUESTS ASSESSED UNDER THE ARCHIVES ACT 1983
  2004–05 2003–04 2002–03
Files received 505 464 461
Total files assessed 574 375 546
Files completed 572 299 490
Number of folios assessed 103 470 81 643 107 591
Open access 301 77 198
Wholly or partly exempt 271 222 275
Subject to review 2 0 1
Subject to appeal 0 0 0

Corporate records

The department continued to undertake a range of activities designed to comply with the recommendations from the ANAO Report of 2003 on Recordkeeping in Large Commonwealth Agencies.

Key results included the development and endorsement by the department's Senior Executive of the Strategic Plan for Recordkeeping 2004–07 and a new Recordkeeping Policy for the department. We established a panel of service providers, the Records and Archival Services Panel 2004–07, with 17 companies offering a range of training, records management, archival and information systems consultancy services. Training programs were reviewed and improved and a scoping study was conducted looking at potential solutions for the implementation of an Electronic Document and Records Management System. By December 2004, the department had rolled out the TRIM records management software system to all overseas posts. We completed ten sentencing projects in Canberra and at overseas posts.

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2004–2005
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