FOI Groundhog Day in Minister's office

Today’s Senate Estimate hearings revealed that once again Freedom of Information (FOI) failings are occurring in the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce’s office.

Officials at the table were unable to provide meaningful insight as to how FOI matters are dealt with in the Minister’s office.

This is concerning due to that fact the Minister’s office has refused to provide information sought in an FOI sent to his office in January this year with regards to his diary. 

In 2015 the department undertook a $80,000 review into how FOI matters are dealt with due to the FOI handling of Hansardgate

The Minister’s office was excluded from that review.  But the issues with how the Hansard Gate FOI was handled stretched into the Minister’s office and resulted in Dr Grimes getting the sack for defending the integrity of his department.

When officials were asked simple questions about how many FOIs the Minister’s office had received, who is responsible for handling FOIs in the Minister’s office, when FOI briefings occurred and who replaced the Minister’s former Chief of Staff who used to look after FOIs, the officials took the majority of questions on notice.

Senator McCarthy: In terms of the Minister’s office receiving or logging how many FOI requests there are? Who would hold that?

Official: I think that would be a matter for the Minister’s office, but we can take it on notice.

Senator McCarthy: Would you be able to explain to the Committee just how the FOI requests are processed though in the Minister’s office? Once you have provided that advice?

Official: Ah, no, that would be a matter for the Minister’s office.

Senator McCarthy: The Minister’s former Chief of Staff Diana Hallam was responsible for processing FOI requests to the Minister’s office. What handover process was undertaken upon her departure?

Official: Handover? Within the Minister’s office?

Senator McCarthy: With the department in terms of FOIs?

Official: So the department, when the new Chief of Staff came into place the department, um, conducted a briefing with that Chief of Staff and undertook to take that through the provisions of the FOI Act and with some very basic understanding of the requirements of roles and responsibilities.

Senator McCarthy: When did that briefing take place?

Official: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator McCarthy: And when did Diana Hallam leave the Minister’s office?

Official: I would have to take that on notice

Senator McCarthy: Who has replaced her as the Minister’s Chief of Staff?

Senator Ruston: Senator McCarthy, currently, um, Simon Price, um, is operating, um is taken the role of Chief of Staff, in the senior Minister’s office.

Senator McCarthy: In a permanent position?

Quinlivan: I think he refers to himself as acting Chief of Staff.

Senator Ruston: We’ll confirm that for you.

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