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Why does the Attorney General's Dept not provide FOI documents on its disclosure log?

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 18 Nov 2013

Senator LUDLAM: I presume this is the right place to ask this question. Mr Wilkins, I was asking before about the AGD's FOI disclosure log. It used to be that when you released documents into the public domain you would release a link to the documents themselves on your website. You have ceased doing that. Can you provide us some background as to why and when that occurred?

Mr Wilkins: I will get Ms Glanville to do that.

Ms Glanville: Under section 11C of the Freedom of Information Act departments are able to define their disclosure log by release in different ways. The Attorney-General's Department has made a change in the way in which it does that although still complying with section 11C in the act, which is publishing on the website other details of how the information may be obtained. The reason why that change was made is because the documents on the website as they currently existed-this is a technical answer-were in a PDF format and because the PDF format is not accessible to all of the population that may choose to use them, that would have downgraded our overall website accessibility rating.

Senator LUDLAM: Now they are not accessible to anybody, so there is real equality!

Ms Glanville: As is indicated on our website, people can request those and we will make them available to them. But that was the rationale behind it. It still complies with the legislation but the decision was made as a consequence of the fact that the PDFs were having an impact on our overall accessibility rating of our website, particularly for example for people with disability. It was the rationale behind that.

Senator LUDLAM: That is absolutely bent. Now there is nothing there at all.

Ms Glanville: Well, we are still complying with the legislation and people can still request-

Senator LUDLAM: It is a rather narrower form of compliance though, isn't it?

Ms Glanville: People can still request access to those documents and we are still compliant with 11C. But that was the rationale for that decision being made.

Senator LUDLAM: Did you contemplate putting them up in some kind of open document format?

Ms Glanville: We have looked at that and we are still looking at that. It is quite difficult because of the nature of the redactions in documents.

Senator LUDLAM: Maybe you should redact things less.

Ms Glanville: It is something we are certainly looking at. We know it is an issue and we are committed to looking at that.

Senator LUDLAM: I am relieved to know that it is still an open process, that we might end up seeing things loaded back up. You folk really should be setting the example, the highest standards of transparency.

CHAIR: You should ask a question.

Senator LUDLAM: That is a fair call, Chair. Earlier on again we briefly discussed a story that had run on the ABC around freedom of information requests to your department relating to a briefing that had occurred a few months before the Snowden revelations. You pulled me up and said, 'That's not quite right.' The secretary has made a copy of the article, and also the page of the FOI. Can I just-

Mr Wilkins: Sure. Could we tell you why the article is not right?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I would greatly appreciate that, just briefly. And I will just table that article.

Mr Wilkins: Perhaps I can get Tony Sheehan to explain it to you. It takes a little bit of explanation, because there are some technical aspects to this.

Mr Sheehan: The background to this is that in considering the FOI request all documents that were within the scope of the request were considered, as we would always do. There was one document that was considered and that we concluded was an exempt document, which was a protected briefing to the Attorney.

Senator LUDLAM: Was that 21 March?

Mr Sheehan: The document date was listed as 21 March. The date on the document is the date the template was created. It was a generic template. The information relevant to the FOI request was not actually entered into the template until July, but because the officers looking at it could find no other document date but the overall template date-because there are a number of things put into such a template-the best date that they could put there was March. But actually that March date was not the date that the information relevant to the FOI request was entered; that was July.

Senator LUDLAM: That is quite useful information. So, that is much appreciated. It is somewhat misleading, though, to put a document into the public domain that is out of date by a factor of four or five months.

Mr Sheehan: It is important to know that in no way would the department attempt to be misleading. The officer was acting in good faith, picking the date on the document-the only date they had. If I had seen that at the time and realised it, then I would have sought another date that would have been more helpful.

Senator LUDLAM: Did you speak to the journalist in question and attempt to correct the record? That story created quite a stir at the time.

Mr Sheehan: No. We would have been very willing to, but we were unaware that the story was running until after it had run.

Senator LUDLAM: Sure; I get that. But did you seek to correct the record after the story had gone to press?

Mr Sheehan: There was contact, I think, between our communications area and the journalists. I do not know the details of what that communication was.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay, but the story is still live; we did a search for it this afternoon. So, you do not appear to have tried all that hard. Not to worry. And, just for the record, what we receive is a page full of black felt marker; that is not particularly helpful for us in trying to establish the veracity of the data, the document. Chair, if I carry on I am probably going to stray into substantive issues, so that is all I have for this group for this part of the schedule.

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