Suzanne Pattinson and Department of Education (August 2022)
On 11 September 2020, Ms Suzanne Pattinson made an application for assessed disclosure under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) to the Department of Education (the Department). Ms Pattinson sought information relating to the Department’s management of the Rose Bay High School 2016 European School Tour and subsequent investigations. On 14 January 2021, the Department released a decision to Ms Pattinson. It determined to release the information in part, with some information found to be exempt under ss35 and 36 of the Act.
Ms Pattinson applied for internal review and on 4 March 2021 the Department released slightly more information to Ms Pattinson but relied on the same provisions of the Act to exempt the remaining information. Ms Pattinson then sought external review of the Department’s internal review decision. As part of her external review Ms Pattinson sought a review of whether there had been an insufficiency in searching for information by the Department.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s35 were varied;
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s36 were varied; and
- The Department’s search for information was sufficient.
Todd Dudley and Department of Natural Resources and Environment (May 2022)
Mr Todd Dudley, the president of the North East Bioregional Network Inc., made an application on 18 August 2018 under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (the Department) seeking information regarding the environmental impact of proposed mountain bike tracks in the St Helens area. The Department located nine pages of information responsive to his request and made a decision on 3 December 2018 to redact parts of the information pursuant to ss35 and 36. Mr Dudley sought internal review and the Department’s internal review decision of 29 March 2019 affirmed its original decision. Mr Dudley then sought external review on the bases that the exemptions claimed were not valid and that there had been an insufficient search for information responsive to his request.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- The Department’s search for information was sufficient; and
- Exemptions claimed by the Department pursuant to ss35 and 36 were not made out.
Cassy O'Connor MP and Department of Natural Resources and Environment (1 April 2022)
Ms Cassy O’Connor MP made a request for information under the Right to Information Act 2009 for correspondence regarding the health and welfare of animals being transported on the Spirit of Tasmania vessels. She refined her request to restrict it to correspondence between the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (the Department), TT-Line Pty Ltd and the office of the Minister for Primary Industries, following an indication from the Department that her request was likely to be refused, due to it being a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources from its other work, unless this occurred. On 29 March 2019, the Department released a decision to Ms O’Connor in which it found that eight pages of information were responsive to her request and all were exempt from release pursuant to s30. Ms O’Connor sought external review under s45(1)(e), on the grounds that she believed an insufficient search for information had been carried out, due to the very small quantity of information assessed. The Ombudsman directed the Department conduct an internal review under s47(1)(f) and its fresh decision affirmed the finding of the original delegate, that the information responsive was exempt under s30, and refuted that there was any insufficiency of searching.
On external review, the Ombudsman determined that the Department had conducted a sufficient search for information responsive to Ms O’Connor’s request. He noted, however, that the issues raised on external review may have been resolved through more consistent communication with Ms O’Connor and a broader interpretation of the scope of her request by the Department.
Ivan Dean MLC and Department of Health (June 2020)
The Department proposed, in a regulatory impact statement (RIS), new laws regarding e-cigarettes, tobacco licensing and smoking. It published most submissions on the RIS, but not six marked confidential. Ivan Dean MLC applied for those six submissions. The Department refused to release them. On internal review, Mr Dean sought to narrow the scope of his application to submissions by tobacco companies. The Department contested his ability to do so, reviewed all six submissions and again refused to release any. The Ombudsman determined that: an applicant is entitled to limit the scope of information sought on internal review; and the one submission by a tobacco company should be released in full. Although marked 'Private and Confidential', the submission was not, in law, ‘communicated in confidence’. Nor would its release impair the Department's ability to obtain similar information in the future. Furthermore, non-disclosure would be antithetical to Australia’s international treaty obligations and to the public interest.
Cassy O’Connor and Minister for Parks, Environment, and Heritage (April 2016)
The issue for determination was whether a decision made by the delegate of a Minister is subject to internal review under the Right to Information Act 2009 and whether the Ombudsman has jurisdiction under the Act to conduct an external review of such a decision. The review considered Sections 43, 44 and 45 of the Act and found that there was no right to internal review of such a decision and therefore no jurisdiction to accept an application for external review.