Broadband Dept tight with secret data

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Broadband Dept tight with secret data

High internal cost to process requests.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy granted full access to just one internal document under freedom of information laws in 2008-9, a report has revealed.

The report also found the Department ranked fourth highest when it came to the internal costs of processing freedom of information requests.

The Government's annual freedom of information (FOI) report [PDF], which was quietly released in the lead-up to Christmas, said that the DBCDE received 18 requests in 2008-9.

The average cost for the DBCDE to process a request was $17,044.

This figure was supplied by the Department based on its own administrative costs. The costs covered things like search and retrieval, consulting third parties, and decision-making by staff, as well as non-staff costs such as legal counsel and printing.

It was up to the Department how much of this cost was then charged back to the applicant.

The report found that the Department of Broadband tried to charge a total of 10 applicants in 2008-9 for their FOI requests.

The charges totaled $46,130. Only $1,025 was actually collected - including $955 from an unsuccessful request by now iTnews reporter Ben Grubb that was financed by ISP iiNet.

"The amount of fees and charges collected represents a small percentage of the estimated costs of dealing with FOI requests," the report said.

"Agencies have a general discretion to remit application fees and not to impose charges, but must take into account financial hardship and public interest factors."

Some of the unsuccessful charges included $24,000 quoted to the then shadow communications minister Nick Minchin to access national broadband network documents.

The report also found the Department collected $530 in application fees in 2008-9. It costs $30 to submit an FOI request.

Access rates

The report said the Department had five requests on hand going into the 2008-9 year and added a further 18 to that figure over the course of the year for a total of 23 requests.

Sixteen of the requests were "finalised" and the remaining seven carried over into the current financial year.

Of the 16 finalised in 2008-9, only one request was granted in full. Three requests were granted in part and access to the requested information was refused on five occasions.

A further seven applications were either withdrawn or transferred to another government agency, according to the figures.

The most common reason a request was "taken to be withdrawn" was because an applicant did not pay the application or deposit fees, according to a DBCDE document [PDF] provided to Senate Estimates.

Margin of error

There were some discrepancies between the figures in the official Government report when compared to the DBCDE document.

That document listed five requests as being partially granted during 2008-9 - not three - and there may be more since the DBCDE document does not cover part of 2008.

The DBCDE document also provided an update on some of the outstanding requests.

Of those listed, one was granted in full and one in part since the beginning of July last year.

Two requests were refused - one because it was claimed the document requested either couldn't be found or did not exist - and two others were withdrawn, including one that had been open since September 2007.

Only one of the requests listed was yet to be processed.

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