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Briggs and Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy [2012] AICmr 6 (15 February 2012)

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Decision and reasons for decision of
Freedom of Information Commissioner, Dr James Popple

Summary of case details
Applicant: Jamie Briggs MP
Respondent: Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Decision date: 15 February 2012
Application number: MR11/00209
Related IC review: Briggs and Department of the Treasury [2012] AICmr 5
Catchwords: Freedom of information – Charges – Whether the giving of access to a document is in the general public interest or in the interest of a substantial section of the public – Whether agency should exercise discretion to reduce or not impose charge – (CTH) Freedom of Information Act 1982s 29(5)(b)

 

Contents

 Summary

1. I affirm the decision of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (the Department) of 18 July 2011 to reduce the charge applicable under s 29(4) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) by 50%.

 Background

2. On 12 May 2011, Mr Jamie Briggs MP, the federal member for Mayo, made a request under the FOI Act to the Department for access to:

  • all briefing material received by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and his office regarding policy development and approval of the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme, announced on 8 May 2011; and
  • all correspondence, including emails between the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and his staff regarding policy development and approval of the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme, announced on 8 May 2011.

3. On 10 June 2011, the Department provided Mr Briggs with a preliminary assessment of a charge of $3316.58, which included approximately 130 hours of decision-making time. The Department advised Mr Briggs that it had identified around 203 documents that potentially fell within the scope of his request.

4. On 15 June 2011, Mr Briggs wrote to the Department requesting that the charge be reduced or not imposed on public interest grounds. On 18 July 2011, the Department decided to reduce the charge by 50%.

5. By letter dated 28 July 2011, Mr Briggs sought IC review of this decision under s 54L of the FOI Act.

 Decision under review

6. The decision under review is the Department's decision of 18 July 2011 to reduce the charge payable by 50% to $1658.29.

 The discretion to reduce or not to impose a charge

7. Mr Briggs's FOI application to the Department was in analogous terms to an application that he made, on the same day, to the Department of the Treasury (the Treasury). Both applications relate to the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme (the Scheme), but each concerns a different minister and department. The application that Mr Briggs made to the Treasury is the subject of another IC review: Briggs and Department of the Treasury [2012] AICmr 5.

8. In that case, I set aside the Treasury's decision not to reduce or waive the charge and substituted my decision, under s 29(4) of the FOI Act, reducing the charge by 50%.

9. For the same reasons that I gave in that IC review, I find – as the Department did in the decision under review – that the giving of access to the documents requested is in the general public interest for the purposes of s 29(5)(b) of the FOI Act.

10. I have not examined the documents in question. However, given their nature and their number, I accept the Department's assertion that processing this FOI request will require it to undertake a substantial amount of work to consider and apply any relevant exemptions.

11. In weighing up the public interest in the release of the documents that Mr Briggs has sought, and the amount of work that will need to be completed by the Department to process his request, I believe that it is appropriate to reduce the charge applicable in this case by 50%. This balances the public interest issues with the policy of the FOI Act that charges can be imposed for processing FOI requests.

 Decision

12. Under s 55K of the FOI Act, I affirm the Department's decision of 18 July 2011 to reduce the charge by 50% to $1658.29.

Dr James Popple
Freedom of Information Commissioner

15 February 2012

Review rights

If a party to an IC review is unsatisfied with an IC review decision, they may apply under s 57A of the FOI Act to have the decision reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The AAT provides independent merits review of administrative decisions and has power to set aside, vary, or affirm an IC review decision.

An application to the AAT must be made within 28 days of the day on which the applicant is given the IC review decision (s 29(2) of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975). An application fee may be payable when lodging an application for review to the AAT. The current application fee is $777, which may be reduced or may not apply in certain circumstances. Further information is available on the AAT's website (www.aat.gov.au) or by telephoning 1300 366 700.