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External scrutiny

The National Archives is subject to scrutiny by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), the Federal Court of Australia, the Auditor-General, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Privacy Commissioner, the Australian Information Commissioner and parliamentary committees.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The National Archives makes decisions on access to Commonwealth records under the Archives Act 1983. People who are dissatisfied with a decision can, in certain circumstances, seek a review from the AAT. The process involves an applicant lodging an application for review with the AAT in connection with applications made under the Act for access to Commonwealth records.

In 2018–19, the AAT received five appeals from members of the public who were dissatisfied with the decision of the National Archives. One application before the AAT was split into three separate applications because of the complexity of the original appeal. Three applications on a deemed refusal were withdrawn once the applicants were granted access. One application was dismissed by the AAT. Twenty-seven appeals were carried over from the previous financial year. At 30 June 2019, 30 appeals remained before the AAT.

Federal Court of Australia

There was one case on matters relating to the National Archives before the Federal Court of Australia in 2018–19: Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia (2019) FCAFC 12. Professor Jennifer Hocking’s appeal was heard by the full court of the Federal Court (Chief Justice Allsop and justices Flick and Robertson) on 28 November 2018. The judgment was handed down on 8 February 2019. The court dismissed the appeal with an order that the appellant pay the respondent’s costs fixed in the amount of $30,000.

High Court of Australia

The National Archives had one case before the High Court of Australia in 2018–19: an application filed by Professor Jennifer Hocking seeking special leave to appeal the decision of the full court of the Federal Court in Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia. The special leave hearing is due to be heard in 2019–20.

Australian National Audit Office

During 2018–19, the National Archives was involved in one multi-portfolio performance audit – Implementation of the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. The audit’s objective was to examine the extent to which Commonwealth entities have implemented the policy and how effectively the National Archives is administering, monitoring and assisting entities to meet the specified targets. Other entities involved were the Attorney-General’s Department, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Office of Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Tabling of the audit is expected in September 2019.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

No investigations were conducted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman during 2018–19.

On 29 June 2018, the National Archives received advice from the Ombudsman that one ongoing investigation from 2017–18 into a complaint about the National Archives’ service had been finalised with no further investigation warranted.

Parliamentary committees

The National Archives made one submission to parliamentary committees in 2018–19: to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit inquiry into the ANAO Report No. 53 (2017–18) Cyber Resilience.

Submissions were also made to the following Australian Government reviews:

  • Soft Power Review
  • Independent Review of the APS: Priorities for Change.

Freedom of Information

In 2018–19, the National Archives received 11 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. The results of these request were:

  • six decisions were finalised within the required timeframes, granting access in full or part
  • one decision was finalised within the required timeframe, refusing access
  • one decision was finalised overdue, granting access in part
  • one application was transferred to another agency
  • two applications were withdrawn.

Information Publication Scheme

Entities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. Each entity must display on its website a plan showing what information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements.

The National Archives complies with the requirement in Part II of the FOI Act to publish information to the public as part of the IPS. A plan outlining what information is published in accordance with the IPS requirements is on the National Archives website: naa.gov.au/ about-us/organisation/accountability-and-reporting/information-publication-scheme

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

On 22 August 2018, the National Archives applied to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to have Mr Ronald Price declared a vexatious applicant under section 89K(1) of the FOI Act. This was prompted by Mr Price’s repeated engagement in FOI access actions between January 2017 and August 2018, and the assessment that these access actions constituted an abuse of process.

On 29 April 2019, the Australian Information Commissioner declared Mr Ronald Price to be a vexatious applicant under the FOI Act. This declaration was made in National Archives Australia and Ronald Price (Freedom of information) [2019] AICmr 16 (29 April 2019).

The declaration sets out criteria by which Mr Price can submit an FOI application to the National Archives, which will apply for a period of five years.

The Information Commissioner made no reports under section 30 of the Privacy Act 1988 concerning actions taken by, or practices of, the National Archives during 2018–19.

Legal services and expenditure

The Legal Services Directions 2017, issued by the Attorney-General under the Judiciary Act 1903, requires Australian Government agencies to ensure that legal services expenditure is appropriately recorded and monitored. The National Archives’ total expenditure on external legal services for 2018–19 was $701,972 (GST exclusive).