A Defence memo signed by Mark Cunliffe,
Head Defence Legal, and Michael Pezzullo, Chief of Staff Australian
Defence Headquarters Head Coordination and Public Affairs Division, on
Freedom of Information policy has made its way to Crikey.

It
raises some interesting questions. Does it mean Defence Minister Robert
Hill and his assistant Minister De-Anne Kelly and Parliamentary
Secretary Theresa Gambaro are afraid of FOIs? Does it mean they have
the right of veto over FOI releases? Why not read it and decide?

Department of Defence
DEFGRAM NO 276/2005
27 May 2005

Note: DEFGRAMS need only be retained while the information is relevant. Publications can be accessed on the Defence Intranet here.

CONSULTING AND INFORMING MINISTERS ABOUT FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS

The
purpose of this DEFGRAM is to announce the availability, through the
Defence Intranet, of guidance concerning the involvement of Defence
portfolio ministers (that is, the Minister for Defence, the Minister
Assisting the Minister for Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary to
the Minister for Defence) in the process of making decisions about
requests made to Defence under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI
Act).

When a request under the FOI Act involves a document or
subject matter in which a minister is, or has been, personally
involved, the minister should be consulted before the decision to grant
or to refuse the request is made. Consultation is obligatory in the
case of a request for access to a document which a minister has seen or
originated.

In other cases, concerning documents or subject
matter in which ministers have not been personally involved, the
decision on the request may, nonetheless, be one about which they and
senior leaders in Defence need to be informed before it is notified to
the FOI applicant. In the case of an FOI request made by a
representative of the media, ministers must be informed about the
decision on the request before it is notified to the applicant. This
will enable them to be prepared to respond to inquiries or comments
resulting from the disclosure of information.

The Directorate
of Freedom of Information (DFOI) in Defence Legal Division and the
Directorate of Ministerial and Parliamentary Liaison Services in
Ministerial and Executive Support (MES) Branch have made available,
through the MES site on the Defence Intranet, guidance for consulting
and informing ministers about the release of documents in response to
requests made under the FOI Act. The site also provides links to
templates to be used for these purposes. Access to the guidelines and
templates is through this address:
http://intranet.defence.gov.au/cpa/manual/mes/01_06a_foi.htm

DFOI will keep the guidance and templates under review and revise them as necessary.

For inquiries about providing advice and support to ministers, contact:

Gabby Taylor
Directorate of Ministerial and Parliamentary Liaison Services
Telephone: (02) 6265 4416

For inquiries about the operation of the guidelines or about the administration of FOI requests generally, contact:

Neil Phillips
Director, Freedom of Information
Telephone: (02) 6266 8861