Politics

IPEA defends decision on Barnaby Joyce's expenses in complaint to IA

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Excerpt of letter of complaint from IPEA, received by IA, 31 May 2018.

Dr Jennifer Wilson's article, 'Barnaby Joyce's spending of public money deemed private by IPEA', seems to have hit a nerve with the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA), who sent us a complaint.

We have published the complaint in its entirety together with Dr Wilson's reply below. 

The complaint from IPEA (received 31 May 2018)

[Some style changes made and links added.]

UNCLASSIFIED

Hi

Please find a letter from the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) noting some inaccuracies in the recent article published on the Independent Australia website on 29 May 2018 titled, 'Barnaby Joyce’s spending of public money deemed private by IPEA.'

Dear Dr Wilson

The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) would like to note some inaccuracies in the recent article published on the Independent Australia website on 29 May 2018 titled, 'Barnaby Joyce’s spending of public money deemed private by IPEA'.

The article states that 'the IPEA refuses to release information on Barnaby Joyce's expenses as they are "personal in nature."'

This statement does not take into account the following facts:

  • IPEA has not denied access to Mr Joyce’s expenses. As is the case for all parliamentarians Mr Joyce’s work expenses are publicly available on the IPEA website at www.ipea.gov.au/expenditure-reporting.
  • The redactions in the released documents contained personal information relating to a range of individuals including staff of parliamentarians. This personal information may have allowed for individuals not directly related to the FOI request to be identified.
  • In its decision, IPEA did not state that the travel expenses themselves were personal, or used for personal purposes. There was other personal information contained in the documents. IPEA uses the definition of "personal information" as set out in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and Privacy Act 1988.
  • The documents requested by the 'West Australian' newspaper were in fact released. Parts of those documents were redacted.
  • The 'Northern Daily Leader', and not the 'Sydney Morning Herald', asked for Ms Campion’s travel expenses, which were found to be exempt under law, specifically under section 47E(b) of the FOI Act on the basis that releasing this information could prejudice an audit.

The article also states 'releasing Joyce and Campion’s travel expenses may endanger life or physical safety'.

This statement suggests the FOI request related only to Mr Joyce and Ms Campion’s travel expenses. However:

  • The documents requested by The West Australian through the FOI Act were not Mr Joyce and Ms Campion’s travel expenses. The information requested was the disaggregated travel expenses (and movements) of every person employed in Senator Matthew Canavan and Mr Damian Drum’s offices over a certain time period.

Transparency and Accountability:

Since commencing operations last year, IPEA has improved transparency and accountability of parliamentarians’ travel expenses by increasing the frequency of expenditure reporting. Quarterly reports are available in a new database format on IPEA's website and they contain individual parliamentarians’ travel expenses and aggregate parliamentarians’ employee travel costs by office. These reports are available at https://www.ipea.gov.au/expenditure-reporting.

IPEA takes both its FOI obligations to the community and its privacy obligations to individuals very seriously. IPEA processes FOI requests against the applicable legislation, the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and is not influenced by parliamentarians when making these decisions. 

The IPEA CEO has made a statement regarding how the organisation handles FOI applications. It is available on our website at: https://www.ipea.gov.au/home-media-and-publications/ipeas-commitment-freedom-information.

This statement underlines that FOI applicants can seek a review of a decision made by IPEA under the FOI Act via an internal agency review, or an external review by the Australian Information Commissioner. Information regarding this process is available at https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-information/foi-review-process.

Individuals who are not FOI applicants are also able to complain to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner about an agency’s handling of FOI requests. More information regarding this process is available at https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-information/foi-complaints.

Under the FOI Act, agencies are required to publish information in documents provided in response to FOI requests. IPEA’s FOI disclosure log is available on our website at https://www.ipea.gov.au/freedom-information-disclosure-log.

'IPEA takes both its FOI obligations to the community and its privacy obligations to individuals very seriously. ~ IPEA 

Independent Australia's response (sent 3 June 2018)

Please note the below response from the article in question’s author Dr Jennifer Wilson:

Thank you for your correspondence. 

  • I did not anywhere state that claimed travel expenses were “personal” travel expenses. Obviously the travel was work-related otherwise no claims would have been made. I said that Ms Petra Gartmann claimed 'revealing the travel expenses may expose matters of a personal nature', directly quoting the 'West Australian' report of the IPEA response to their FOI request.
  • Neither did I suggest that the information deemed by the IPEA to have the potential to cause endangerment of life and physical safety if made public, related solely to Mr Joyce and Ms Campion. Indeed, I clearly stated, again quoting the 'West Australian', that the IPEA refused information on the grounds that it might 'endanger the life or physical safety of staff involved or individuals associated … ' This in no way suggests that Mr Joyce and Ms Campion were the only individuals considered to be at risk, as you claim in your letter.
  • Indeed, the 'Sydney Morning Herald' (SMH) did not lodge an FOI request, however, the outcome of the request was reported in that publication as having been lodged by Fairfax Media, of which the SMH is a part. I hesitate to resort to such hair splitting on this matter, however it seems to be of some significance to the IPEA.  
  • You claim that the article states: 'the IPEA refuses to release information on Barnaby Joyce's expenses as they are "personal in nature'. I did not write this anywhere in my article. 

I am baffled as to why you have addressed these concerns to me. As is clearly stated in the article, my sources were Fairfax Media and the 'West Australian' and there are links to both. If the IPEA has been misunderstood or your decisions misinterpreted, it is by these media and not myself. As far as I am aware, both publications are considered in Australia to be “papers of record” — that is, they are regarded as reasonably authoritative and citable. It would make far more sense to address the contested accounts with those media outlets, otherwise they will remain available for citation as they stand and no doubt others will come to the same conclusions about the IPEA decisions as myself.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Jennifer Wilson

'I am baffled as to why you have addressed these concerns to me ... my sources were Fairfax Media ... ' ~ Dr Jennifer Wilson

Read the original article here.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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