Annual Report 2007-2008
 

Annual Report home |

Table of Contents |

Userguide |

Download versions

1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Appendixes5. Financials6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

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: Overview ::Freedom of information :: Historical publications and information :: Archival examination :: Recordkeeping :: Outlook

Overview

The department created a new FOI section and appointed a specialist FOI officer during the year. We continued to review and strengthen our FOI processes, including by providing enhanced guidance to decision-makers.

Our historical research and publications program completed preparation of several diverse new publications covering key events and topics in Australian foreign and trade policy, helping us improve public understanding of our varied functions.

We completed major strategic planning for the improvement of our records management systems and practices and began preparatory work to implement an Electronic Document and Records Management System to take the department from paper-based to electronic filing.

Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) extends the right to obtain access to information in the Government’s possession. Access is limited only by exemptions that protect essential public interests and the private and business affairs of persons and organisations about which government agencies may collect and hold information.

The department finalised 78 applications, 19 fewer than the previous period (see table 13 overleaf). As with the previous period, requests often involved a substantial volume of information and/or covered complex and sensitive topics. Where access decisions were made outside the statutory deadline, it was often due to the volume or sensitive nature of the documents. The department managed its FOI caseload proactively, liaising closely with applicants on the content and processing of the requests, including where there were delays in decision-making.

Four requests for internal review of access decisions were received and decisions were made on all four requests. Two appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal were lodged in 2007–08. One appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal lodged in 2005–06 was finalised by consent.

The department regularly presented training on our FOI obligations during induction programs and executive-level training courses. We provided assistance on FOI processing, reporting and practice to portfolio bodies.

There were no applications received under section 48 of the FOI Act for amendment of records.

The department met fully its obligations under sections 8 and 9 of the FOI Act, including the provision of statistical reports to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Our statement in accordance with section 8 of the FOI Act is at Appendix 4.

The department processes FOI requests received in the offices of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade, the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade, under section 16 of the FOI Act.

TABLE 13. REQUESTS PROCESSED UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 1982
2007–08
2006–07
2005–06
Requests for information
Access granted in full
14
23
15
Access granted in part
39
40
50
Access refused
6
21
24
Requests transferred or withdrawn
19
13
20
Total
78
97
109
Requests subject to review or legal appeal
Requests for internal review (s.54)
4
7
17
Appeals lodged with the AAT (s.55)
2
0
1
Ombudsman
2
0
1

Historical publications and information

The department continued to research and publish on the history of Australian foreign and trade policy. Our publications are an important resource for scholars and the public and a valuable means of explaining the nature of the department’s functions and activities. We received positive feedback on the publications, evidenced through: reviews in scholarly journals (including the Australian Journal on International Affairs) and newspapers; the convening of a public forum based on one particular publication; and citations and commendations by academic experts on foreign and trade policy.

To coincide with Papua New Guinea’s 32nd anniversary of independence in September 2007, the high commission in Port Moresby launched Full circle: Australia and Papua New Guinea 1883–1970. This was the fifth title in our series Australia in the world: The foreign affairs and trade files.

Photo - See caption below for description
Mr Geoff Moore, General Manager Asia Pacific (standing second from right) and Mr Clinton Brown, ACT Branch Manager (seated right) of Tower Software, during the Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS) demonstration to the departmentís Senior Executive on 12 May 2008. Photo: Auspic
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

We researched and prepared for publication two narrative commemorative histories: Every assistance and protection: A history of the Australian passport and Great white fleet to Coral Sea: Naval strategy and the development of Australian–United States Relations 1900–1945. The latter marks the 100th anniversary of the 1908 visit to Australia of the US Navy’s Great White Fleet. On behalf of Austrade, we prepared for publication the narrative history Emissaries of trade: A history of the Trade Commissioner Service. These publications will be launched in the first half of 2008–09. We contributed a case study on the role of women in diplomacy in Australia for inclusion in a book to be published by the Slovene Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Ljubljana.

The department continued research on other publications, including document volumes on Australia and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and on Australia and the United Kingdom’s Withdrawal East of Suez and its access to the European Economic Community.

In August 2007, the department and the National Archives of Australia jointly hosted the second annual R G Neale Lecture. This public lecture was delivered by Professor John Fitzgerald of La Trobe University on Australia–China relations 1976: Looking forward to coincide with the 30-year release of government records about this significant turning point in the relationship. We also presented a paper that addressed Australia’s preparedness for the Second World War at an international conference in the United Kingdom in July 2007.

We responded to 214 requests for historical information from public and official inquirers, a 10 per cent increase on 2006–07.

Archival examination

Departmental archival records more than 30 years old are available to public researchers, on application to the National Archives of Australia (NAA), under the Archives Act 1983. Prior to release to the public, the NAA refers classified records to the department for expert assessment regarding possible exemption in light of sensitivities relating to intelligence, security, defence or international relations.

Table 14 (below) outlines requests received by the department under the Archives Act 1983. We received 499 requests from the NAA, foreign governments and other agencies for archival records to be assessed for public release. These included files or documents requested by public researchers under section 40 of the Archives Act 1983 relating to Australian policy on Antarctica, negotiations with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea on seabed boundaries, nuclear non-proliferation, Australia’s relations with Asia, disarmament and Australia’s relations with the Middle East. We also cleared records relating to a number of specific projects, including the public release of records of the 1977 Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, files for research material in support of the Australian War Memorial’s Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, records on apartheid and sport in South Africa for public release to coincide with the 2008 R G Neale Lecture, and 1978 Cabinet Records due for public release in January 2009 under the 30-year rule.

Of the 499 requests received, 309 files or documents were the subject of a recommendation for at least one exemption on national security or international relations grounds. We referred 86 files or documents to other agencies (Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or the Department of Defence) and 57 requests to foreign governments (United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden) for clearance. We processed 13 requests from foreign governments (United States and United Kingdom) and 23 requests from other agencies.

We received five requests for reconsideration of access decisions under the Archives Act 1983 and assisted the NAA in responding to two appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

TABLE 14. REQUESTS ASSESSED UNDER THE ARCHIVES ACT 1983

TABLE 14. REQUESTS ASSESSED UNDER THE ARCHIVES ACT 1983
2007–08
2006–07
2005–06
Files received
499
635
675
Total files assessed
445
636
713
Files completed
441
629
713
Number of folios assessed
84 080
113 913
139 013
Open access
132
318
337
Wholly or partly exempt
309
298
376
Subject to review
5
0
2
Subject to appeal
2
0
0

Recordkeeping

The department continued its ongoing program to improve its records management systems and practices. We adopted a new Strategic Plan for DFAT Records Management 2008–11 which builds on enhancements to our recordkeeping capability completed under the previous strategic plan and the Recordkeeping Initiative 2006. The new plan draws closely on recommendations of the 2007 Management Advisory Committee report number 8, Note for file—A report on recordkeeping in the Australian Public Service.

The 66 specific actions under the new Strategic Plan advance records management support, training, systems improvement, compliance and self-assessment measures. They prepare the department for the introduction of electronic recordkeeping capability.

We continued preparatory work on the implementation of an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS) in accordance with recommendations by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). The EDRMS will ensure compliance with legislative recordkeeping obligations and improve the department’s ability to manage electronic records across all local and international locations.

Following the selection through tender of EDRMS software in 2006–07, the department negotiated a contract with the software supplier and established an internal project team. We developed a comprehensive project communications strategy to address the significant change management challenges of EDRMS implementation.

The department completed 38 records management projects—17 projects in Canberra to help divisions maintain the currency of their files, seven sentencing and disposal projects in Canberra and 14 in overseas posts. We began transferring over 900 linear metres of ‘Retain as National Archives’ files to the NAA following the NAA’s creation of additional storage space for such records.

Outlook

In 2008–09, we will continue to review our FOI processes to ensure best practice in fulfilling our obligations under the FOI Act.

In 2008–09, we will continue to research and publish on significant historical foreign and trade policy events. These publications make a valuable contribution to scholarship, with topics chosen to showcase, as part of the department’s public diplomacy program, the broad range of departmental functions.

Ongoing implementation of the Strategic Plan for DFAT Records Management 2008–11 and preparations for the rollout of EDRMS will be major priorities. We will conduct a one-month trial of the EDRMS software early in 2008–09, to be followed by a full pilot trial later in the year. The department will attend closely to the effective delivery of the EDRMS communications strategy and development of a comprehensive training program, to facilitate the smooth transition to an electronic recordkeeping environment.

Return to top of page