Appendix 6
Freedom of information

Information Required to be Published under the FOI Act

Prior to the Freedom of Information Reforms commencing on 1 May 2011, section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) required that Customs and Border Protection publish details about certain agency functions and documents. This includes details about how the agency is organised, our functions, decision-making powers, arrangements for public involvement, documents held and details of now members of the public can access them. These details for the period of 1 June 2010–30 April 2011 are outlined at Appendix 6.

From 1 May 2011, agencies subject to the 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. An agency plan showing what information is published in accordance with the IPS requirements is accessible at www.customs.gov.au/ips.

This appendix provides information required under section 8 of the FOI Act for the period of 1 July 2010–30 April 2011. Agencies are required to report on:

  • organisation, functions and decision-making powers of the agency
  • arrangement for public involvement in the work of the agency
  • types of documents held by the agency
  • where and how the public can gain access to these documents.

The Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 introduced sweeping changes to the FOI Act. These changes, introduced in stages on 1 November 2010 and 1 May 2011, have had a significant impact on Customs and Border Protection’s approach to FOI.

In implementing the FOI reforms within the agency, Customs and Border Protection has regard to the overall aim of the reforms, which is to deliver more effective and efficient access to government information and promote a pro-disclosure culture.

FOI reforms introduced 1 May 2011

The most significant change to the FOI Act is the IPS, which came into effect on 1 May 2011.

Under the IPS, Customs and Border Protection is required to be proactive in publishing information on its website and to make it available for downloading where possible.

In meeting its IPS requirements, Customs and Border Protection has published details of the agency’s structure, functions and powers and all documents held by the agency that assist it to make decisions and recommendations that affect members of the public (operational material).

Customs and Border Protection has also published an agency plan that explains how the agency will implement and administer the IPS. Customs and Border Protection has started publishing on its disclosure log all documents released in response to specific FOI requests within 10 working days of providing access, subject to any exemptions.

Information published by Customs and Border Protection under the IPS is available on the agency’s website at http://www.customs.gov.au/ips/default.asp.

Customs and Border Protection is continuing to improve its response to the IPS.
The agency is developing internal policy documents, including the Information Publication Scheme Framework, which will describe the processes to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of published information and to help identify information required for publishing.

FOI reforms introduced 1 November 2010

The reforms that started on 1 November 2010 have an impact on Customs and Border Protection’s administration of access requests.

These changes include the abolishment of application fees, an adjustment of the charges regime for processing requests, a major reorganisation of the exemption provisions in the FOI Act and a new merits review structure.

We processed all new requests for access to documents received after 1 November 2010 under this new regime.

FOI Statistics

From 1 July 2010–30 June 2011, Customs and Border Protection received 113 requests under section 15 of the FOI Act, up from 51 requests last year (see Table 63).

Requests for access covered such matters as:

  • import or export data associated with our operational matters
  • processing of passengers at airports
  • inquiries from media organisations on various issues
  • staffing matters.
Table 63: Requests made under the FOI Act*
Requests received
Section 15**
Section 54/Part VI (internal review)***
Part VII (Information Commissioner review) post
1 Nov 2010****
Section 55/Part VIIA (Administrative Appeals
Tribunal review)*****
Decisions on section 15 requests
Access granted in full
Access granted in part
Access refused
Requests transferred
Requests withdrawn
Time taken to process section 15 requests – Prior to 1 Nov 2010******
0-30 days
31-60 days (consultation under subsections 26A, 27 or 27A)
31-60 days
61-90 days
90 plus days
Time taken to process section 15 requests – Post to 1 Nov 2010******
Statutory time period met
Up to 30 days over
31-60 days over statutory time period
61-90 days over statutory time period
More than 90 days over statutory time period
Fees and charges collected for section 15 and section 54 requests
Total application fees collected*******
$1 190
$1 150
Total charges notified
$2 751
$13 354
$26 481
Total charges collected
$3 387
$3 810
$8 060

* On 1 November 2010, the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 introduced sweeping changes to the Commonwealth Freedom of Information regime. These changes included the abolition of fees for making FOI requests, adjustment to third party consultation provisions, changes to exemption provisions, modifying of the public interest test to focus more on reasons to release rather than withhold, making internal reviews optional rather than mandatory for FOI applicants prior to seeking external merits review of decisions, modifying the processes for agencies to make decisions beyond the statutory processing period and adjustments to the charges regime. Further information regarding the changes to the FOI Act can be found on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website at www.oaic.gov.au.

** A section 15 request is a request for access to information. Please note this number includes requests carried over from the previous financial year and requests still being processed at the end of the financial year.

*** A section 54 request is a request for a decision about a section 15 request to be reviewed by Customs and Border Protection (internal review). As of 1 November 2011, requests for internal review are dealt with under Part VI of the FOI Act.

**** As of 1 November 2010, a Part VII request is a request for the Information Commissioner to review a section 15 request or a decision made by Customs and Border Protection on internal review under Part VI of the FOI Act.

***** A section 55 request is a request for review of a decision about a section 15 request to be reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (external review). As of 1 November 2011, reviews by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are dealt with under Part VIIA of the FOI Act.

****** As at 1 November 2010, the timeframes for processing FOI requests were modified to include the possibility of extensions of time to process requests.

******* Application fees for access requests and requests for internal review were abolished on 1 November 2010.

Further information on these requests is available in the FOI Act.

Functions and powers

The protection of the safety, security and commercial interests of Australians through border protection designed to support legitimate trade and travel and ensure collection of border-related revenue and trade statistics.

Arrangement for participation

We have formal and informal consultative mechanisms in place to allow organisations and people outside the Australian Government to participate in the formulation and administration of policy.

The Customs and Border Protection National Consultative Committee provides a forum for consultation with industry bodies. We encourage feedback from clients and other interested parties about our decisions and actions. Feedback can be provided to our Complaints and Compliments Management Unit via our website or by email to comments@customs.gov.au.

Members of the public can also voice their opinions in letters to the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600.

Types of documents

Customs and Border Protection holds documents on a wide range of topics, which are broadly categorised as:

  • agendas, minutes and decisions (including internal and external meetings and ministerial, interdepartmental and general correspondence and papers)
  • internal administration papers (including research and project reports, accounting and financial records, legal records and staffing records)
  • manuals and training materials (including video tapes, guidelines, directions and administrative instructions relating to Customs and Border Protection operations and legislative procedures. This also includes some publications prepared for the guidance of staff and the business community to assist in decision making)
  • briefing papers (including briefs, submissions and reports to Customs and Border Protection’s Executive and the Minister for Home Affairs. These generally relate to policy development and background to particular administrative decisions)
  • database records (including computer files, printouts, pre-printed forms and statistical tabulations).

Availability of documents to members of the public

Some documents are generally available while others are available under the FOI Act. Many of the documents we hold are available free on request. Some of these include:

  • annual reports
  • corporate plans and other associated documents
  • a range of fact sheets, brochures and booklets including information on importing and exporting goods, information for people travelling overseas and details on the industry assistance schemes, tariff, rules of origin and valuations reference documents and policy advices
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Notices
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Dumping Notices
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Cargo Advices
  • State Notices.

To ensure a transparent process, in which all interested parties have the maximum opportunity to defend their interests, we also maintain a public file for all anti-dumping and countervailing investigations and reviews. Some documents we hold are available for purchase, including:

  • Dumping Commodities Register
  • Schedule of Commercial Tariff Concession Orders
  • Combined Australian Customs and Border Protection Tariff Nomenclature Statistical Classification.

A list of documents held by the agency can be found on our website at www.customs.gov.au/ips.

Documents available to the public are generally available on our website or by calling the Customs and Border Protection Information and Support Centre. Applications for access to documents, including those not generally available to the public, can be made under the FOI Act.

Freedom of Information inquiries

Inquiries regarding Freedom of Information can be made by contacting the FOI Coordinator on telephone 02 6275 5621, via email at foi@customs.gov.au or by writing to the FOI Coordinator at 5 Constitution Avenue, Canberra ACT 2601.

Formal FOI requests must be made in writing and sent to the FOI Coordinator. Further information about requesting access to documents under the FOI Act can be found on our website at www.customs.gov.au/foi/requesting-access.asp.

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