Australia

Defence industry minister says she wasn't consulted about 'laughable' FOI response

The Department of Defence had claimed would take bureaucrats 142 hours to process SBS' FOI request. Source: AAP

Journalists and politicians expressed their disbelief after a standard Freedom of Information request from SBS News was met with a cost quote of at least $2,515.

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price says she was not consulted about a “laughable” response to a routine Freedom of Information Request, which the Department of Defence claimed would take bureaucrats 142 hours to process.

In response to a straightforward request from SBS News for the total cost of the minister’s recent week-long visit to the United Kingdom and France, the Department of Defence claimed it would take departmental officials 45 hours to “search and retrieve” the cost of the trip and a further 97 hours for “decision-making” about what – if any – detail could be released.

The department said the cost to process the application would be at least $2,515 – with no guarantee, any documents - or detail - would be released.

“The department arrived at the FOI cost estimate on its own and my office was not consulted," Ms Price said in a statement to SBS News.

“I am more than happy for the costs of my official travel to the UK and Europe last month to be released under normal FOI processes.”

A Defence official later confirmed to SBS News the request will be processed without charge within the 30 day statutory decision period.

The Department of Defence said the FOI into the minister's travel would cost at least $2,515 – with no guarantee any documents would see the light of day.
The Department of Defence said the FOI into the minister's travel would cost at least $2,515 – with no guarantee any documents would see the light of day.
AAP

The unusually high time and cost to process the request was condemned by journalists and newspaper editors on social media, who labelled Australia’s Freedom of Information laws "a farce".

Labor MP Brian Mitchell joined the chorus of critics, describing the department's costing as an "outrageous abuse of freedom of information laws".

“If the issue of access to information wasn’t so serious this would have been funny," Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick told SBS News.

“I am glad that the Minister has intervened in this FOI issue because it counts as one of the most ill-considered things that I have seen come out from the Defence Department’s FOI division.”

“Time and time again we are seeing that adult supervision is sorely needed in the Defence Department’s FOI division.”

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s repeated assurances that Ms Price would remain in cabinet as environment minister, she was demoted to defence industry minister in his post-election reshuffle.

“Melissa and I discussed her role and she asked to be given a new challenge and I was pleased to give her one," Mr Morrison told reporters at the time.

But Ms Price said the trip was "extremely valuable and allowed me to lead the largest-ever Australian delegation to an international defence tradeshow".

“Advocating for more Aussie jobs in our defence industry through increased defence exports is a key part of my job as minister for the defence industry," she said.

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