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External accountability

Courts and tribunals

We managed a range of legal matters before courts and tribunals during the reporting period.

The department was a defendant in three matters before the Federal Court of Australia, which commenced during 2019–20. One of these matters related to employee entitlements and another related to consular assistance provided by the department. Both are ongoing. A passport-related matter was concluded. Three matters from the previous financial year relating to passport and employment issues were finalised.

The department appeared as an interested party in one coronial inquest which was finalised by the Coroner’s Court of Queensland.

The department continued to defend applications before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) concerning passport decisions. In 2019–20 six new matters in relation to passport decisions were initiated against the department and two were finalised. The department also defended two applications concerning freedom of information decisions, both of which are ongoing. At the end of the financial year, six AAT matters remained active.

We defended a number of matters in foreign courts or tribunals, one of which was finalised and two remained ongoing at the end of the year.

The department complied with discovery, subpoena and other document production obligations in a range of matters. This included a number of matters brought against the Commonwealth and other Australian Government agencies.

The department facilitated via diplomatic channels the service of documents and taking of evidence in private litigation in more than 80 matters brought overseas and in Australia. We also facilitated the service of documents on foreign states in a number of matters under the Foreign States Immunities Act 1985.

FOI and privacy

In 2019–20 the department finalised 164 freedom of information (FOI) applications. The Information Commissioner received one privacy complaint about the department. The department has provided submissions to the Information Commissioner in this matter. Detailed information on how the department manages FOI requests can be found on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website at: https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-information/guidance-and-advice/

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: https://www.dfat.gov.au/about-us/corporate/freedom-of-information/Pages/information-publications-scheme

Reports by the Auditor-General

The Auditor-General tabled in parliament the following reports by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) related to the department’s operations:

  • Report No. 32 of 2019–20: Value for Money in the Delivery of Official Development Assistance through Facility Arrangements.
  • Report No. 42 of 2019–20: Fraud Control Arrangements in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Details of these reports, including our responses, are available on the ANAO website.

Parliamentary committees of inquiry

Information on the department’s engagement with parliamentary committees of inquiry is in Appendix 8: Parliamentary committees of inquiry.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman commenced six investigations in 2019–20 with respect to the department’s activities. No notices were provided to the department under subsection 12(4) of the Ombudsman Act 1976 and no formal reports were issued.

Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission investigated three claims with respect to the department’s activities in 2019–20. Two have been resolved and one remains ongoing.

Compensation for detriment caused by defective administration, acts of grace, ex gratia payments

In 2019–20, 18 claims were made under the Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration with respect to the department’s activities. The department finalised 14 cases during the same period, including four which had been initiated in the previous financial year.

One application for an act of grace payment received in 2018–19 was finalised during the reporting period.