DPM&C defends public servant following ‘personal attack’ from senator

By Jackson Graham

November 26, 2021

Rex Patrick
Independent senator Rex Patrick. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has jumped to the defence of a public servant who independent Rex Patrick criticised in the senate over an FOI request, saying, “unjustified personal attacks” harm staff welfare. 

Patrick on Tuesday named PM&C assistant secretary Angie McKenzie after she rejected an FOI request he made for meeting minutes from the national cabinet.

Patrick had cited an Administrative Appeals Tribunal case brought by him in which Justice Richard White in August cast doubt on whether the national cabinet was a committee of cabinet. 

McKenzie, in a letter to Patrick, said she was aware of White’s decision “on the evidence available to him” but she stated the national cabinet had endorsed a terms of reference that stated it was a committee of the cabinet. 

Patrick, in parliament, called the decision “disgraceful” and took aim at McKenzie, claiming she was “incompetent” and “politicised”. 

“It’s a disgrace that this sort of material comes out of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, an organisation that’s supposed to be the pre-eminent department in the commonwealth,” he said. 

A spokesperson for PM&C told The Mandarin it strongly rejected the “adverse comments” from Patrick made under parliamentary privilege. 

The Department will take all necessary action to set the record straight,” a statement said. 

“The officer against whom this attack was made operates with the highest levels of integrity and probity. 

“Unjustified personal attacks, such as this, against officers of the APS directly undermine public confidence in Australia’s democratic institutions, and impact on the welfare of individual staff.”

The spokesperson highlighted the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was a “merits review body” that did not make binding decisions in the same ways as a court. 

“A decision-maker under the FOI Act is entitled to review additional facts to those available to the AAT before making their decision,” they said.

“As in any case, if an applicant is unhappy with the outcome of a decision, they have rights to seek review of decisions under the FOI Act.” 

In a separate case this week, the Office of the Information Commissioner found that DPM&C did not comply with statutory timeframes for processing an FOI request required to be finalised by October 5. 

The commissioner recommended the department appoint an “information champion” to “provide leadership, oversight and accountability necessary to promote and operationalise the department’s compliance with the FOI Act”. 

It also recommended the department provide training to FOI section staff and relevant senior executives about the obligations under the act to comply with processing periods. 

The Guardian reported last week a decision from the commissioner was then yet-to-be-published detailing that DPM&C had breached FOI law by exceeding the time frame for a request for internal documents referring to Brittany Higgins from a member of the public. 


READ MORE:

Rex Patrick threatens to take information commissioner to court over FOI speed

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