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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade :: 2001-2002 Annual Report
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Output 3.1:

Public information services and public diplomacy

3.1.3 Freedom of information and archival research and clearance

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Freedom of Information

The department met its obligations under the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 1982. This Act extends the right to the Australian community to obtain access to information held by the Commonwealth 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 collect and hold information.

The department processed 56 applications-a decrease of approximately 23 per cent on the previous year. While not all requests were met within the statutory deadlines (either because they were complicated or there was a need to retrieve documents from overseas), departmental procedures ensured applicants in those few cases were kept advised of progress.

Two complaints were made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman regarding our handling of FOI cases. Both complaints were resolved to the satisfaction of the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office.

One appeal against a departmental decision was made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). No hearing date has yet been set. One appeal to the AAT from the 2000-01 financial year has yet to be heard.

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Table 13. Requests processed under the Freedom of Information Act 1982

  1999-00 2000-01 2001-02
Requests for information
Access granted in full 9 22 11
Access granted in part 31 41 25
Access refused 3 5 8
Requests transferred or withdrawn 12 5 12
Total 55 73 56
Requests subject to review or legal appeal
Subject to internal review (s.54) 3 7 4
In AAT (s.55) 0 2 1
Ombudsman 2 3 2

Privacy Act 1988
The department received three complaints in relation to the Privacy Act 1988. Two complaints have been resolved and one is currently being addressed.

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Historical documents publications

In August 2001, Mr Downer launched the final volume of documents in the departmental series Documents on Australian Foreign Policy (DAFP) 1937-1949, Volume XVI, titled Australia and the Postwar World. Documents 1948-1949. Beyond the Region.

A volume of documents in the new DAFP series, The ANZUS Treaty 1951, was launched by the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, in September 2001 to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the treaty. In October 2001, Mr Downer launched the first volume of the department's Centenary of Federation history, Facing North: A Century of Australian Engagement with Asia, covering the period from 1901 to the 1970s. A second volume of Facing North covering the period from 1971 is well advanced.

Work was completed on a volume of documents on Australia and the recognition of the People's Republic of China, 1950-1972, and on a booklet of historical photographs, to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. Both will be published in the latter part of 2002.

The department commenced work on a volume of documents on Australia's closer economic relationship with New Zealand. This is being prepared jointly with New Zealand. Work is also proceeding on volumes of documents on Australia and the independence of Papua New Guinea, Australia and the Colombo Plan, and Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, 1963-1966.

We began work on preserving our collection of historical photographs on a computerised data base, as an adjunct to the visual history collection (see sub-output 3.1.1 at page 161 for further detail on the department's photographic library).

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Archival research and clearance

Records more than 30 years old are available for public access under the Archives Act 1983. The National Archives refers highly-classified records for expert assessment of sensitivities relating to intelligence, security, defence or international relations before public release.

During 2001-02, 974 files comprising 190 562 folios for public access were assessed. Of these, 661 files (68 per cent) contained at least one exemption on national security or international relations grounds. There were no appeals.

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Table 14. Requests processed under the Archives Act 1983

  1999-2000 2000-01 2001-02
Files received 509 657 922
Files completed 659 675 974
Number of folios 142 867 136 109 190 562
Open access 168 182 313
Wholly or partly exempt 490 460 661
Subject to review 0 10 17
Subject to appeal 0 0 0

The 40 per cent increase in the number of files received for assessment reflected an increase in public demand for access to departmental files held by the National Archives and an effort by the department to help reduce the backlog of public requests under section 40 of the Archives Act.

During the year under review we also answered 642 requests for historical and administrative information from public and official researchers (an increase of 37 per cent from 2000-01), and handled 39 applications for special or privileged access to records not available to the public, more than double the number for 2000-01.

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Table 15. Requests for information processed

  1999-2000 2000-01 2001-02
Requests for information
Public 189 207 237
Official 265 269 366
Special access 18 16 39
Total 472 458 642

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