External Scrutiny and Accountability
Courts and tribunals
The department managed a range of legal matters before courts and tribunals during the year.
The department was a defendant in a number of employment actions in foreign courts/tribunals. We successfully defended one matter and settled four others. Two matters were ongoing at the end of the financial year.
The department complied with discovery, subpoena and other document production obligations in a range of matters. This included matters brought against the Commonwealth and other Australian Government agencies. We facilitated the successful assertion of the Commonwealth’s foreign state immunity in three matters involving overseas legal proceedings.
The department facilitated the service of documents through diplomatic channels relating to private litigation brought overseas and in Australia. We also facilitated the service of documents on foreign states under the Foreign States Immunities Act 1985.
The department continued to defend applications before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) concerning passport decisions. In 2017–18, 12 matters before the AAT involving the department were finalised. At the end of the financial year there were eight active applications in the AAT, with a further three matters awaiting the AAT’s final decision.
Two unfair dismissal claims before the Fair Work Commission were commenced and resolved in 2017–18 (one was discontinued by the claimant and the other was resolved in the department’s favour).
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Freedom of Information and privacy
The department finalised 235 freedom of information (FOI) applications in 2017–18. On external review the Information Commissioner set aside two administrative decisions, and declined to investigate two other applications for review. No privacy complaints concerning the department were investigated by the Information Commissioner.
Detailed information on the department’s management of FOI requests can be found on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website at: oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-information/foi-resources/freedom-of-information-reports/. Consistent with requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), we continued to publish information under the Information Publication Scheme contained in Part II of the FOI Act. The content is available at: http://www.dfat.gov.au/foi/ips.html.
Reports by the Auditor-General
In 2017–18 the Auditor-General tabled in Parliament the following reports by the ANAO related to the department’s operations:
- Report No. 5: Protecting Australia’s Missions and Staff Overseas: Follow-on
- Report No. 41: Efficiency through Contestability Programme
- Report No. 47: Interim Report on Key Financial Controls of Major Entities
- Report No. 49: Senate Order for Departmental and Entity Contracts (Financial Year 2016–17 Compliance).
Details of these reports are available on the ANAO website.
Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry
On 18 July 2017 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJCLE) released its report Inquiry into human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. The report can be found at:
On 7 December 2017 the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) released the report of its inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, Hidden in Plain Sight. The report can be found at:
The department is contributing to the government response to these reports, to be led by the Department of Home Affairs.
On 8 August 2017 the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) released its report on the Agreement to Amend the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The report can be found at:
On 8 May 2018 the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) tabled in Parliament its report into the department’s provision of security to diplomatic missions, Security of Overseas Missions: Inquiry based on Auditor-General’s Report No. 5. The report can be found at:
The department will respond to the report’s recommendations by 8 November 2018.
On 9 May 2018 the JSCOT released its report on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) and associated side letters. The report can be found at:
The department is coordinating the government response to the report.
On 17 May 2018 the JSCFADT released the report of its inquiry Implications of climate change for Australia’s national security. The report can be found at:
The department is working with other government departments, coordinated by the Department of Home Affairs, to provide a management response to the report recommendations.
On 18 June 2018 the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories released its report on Maintaining Australia’s national interests in Antarctica: Inquiry into Australia’s Antarctic Territory. The report can be found at:
The department, with other agencies, is considering the recommendations of the report.
On 21 June 2018 the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee tabled its report Australia’s trade and investment relationships with the countries of Africa. The report can be found at:
The department is coordinating the government response to the report, which is due on 21 September 2018.
During the reporting period departmental officers gave evidence as witnesses before the JSCOT in relation to ten proposed treaty actions. This figure does not include occasions on which the department’s International Law: Advising and Treaties Section staff attended JSCOT hearings in an observer or advisory capacity.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman commenced nine investigations in 2017–18 with respect to the department’s activities. There was one notice provided to the department under subsection 12(4) of the Ombudsman Act 1976, but no formal reports were issued.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australia Human Rights Commission (AHRC) advised us of two new claims made about the department’s activities in 2017–18. One of these was closed by the AHRC without further investigation and the other remains active. The AHRC made findings and recommendations in relation to a complaint initiated in a previous year. The department informed the AHRC that it disagreed with those findings and recommendations.
Independent Evaluation Committee
The Independent Evaluation Committee (IEC) oversees the work of the ODE (see p. 140). It provides independent strategic and technical advice on all aspects of ODE’s work. The IEC has three external members (former World Bank Vice President, Jim Adams, is the chair) and one departmental representative (at deputy secretary level). The Department of Finance attends as an observer. It met three times in 2017–18.
Compensation for detriment caused by defective administration, act of grace, ex-gratia payments
Eighteen new claims were made under the Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by defective administration. The department resolved 19 cases, including applications made in previous financial years. Of these, 11 applications for compensation were accepted and seven were rejected. Eight cases remained in progress at the end of the financial year.
One application for an act of grace payment relating to the department’s activities made in a previous financial year remained in progress with the Department of Finance at the end of the financial year.