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Kline v. Official Secretary to the Governor General

Case number:
B47/2013, 2013 HCA 52
Country:
Australia
Date of decision:
6 December 2013
Court / Arbiter:
High Court of Australia ( Supreme )

Relevant law :

Decision:

Section 6A(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 excludes from disclosure documents held by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General unless they relate to “matters of an administrative nature,” which does not include documents relating to substantive powers.


Keywords:
Correspondence
Deliberations / Advice (including free and frank provision of advice within and among public bodies, executive privilege, internal documents, opinions, analyses, reports)
Head of state / Government (including president, monarch, cabinet)

Case details:

Facts

Ms. Kline made a request for access to documents held by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia (para. 1). The documents related to the Order of Australia and included two nomination forms for making an award, correspondence in relation to those nominations, criteria for making awards, working manuals, policy guidelines, and documents relating to review processes (para. 2). The Official Secretary determined that the documents were not of an administrative nature and denied access (paras. 3, 4).

Decision

The Court denied access to the documents, affirming the decision below (para. 57). The Court noted that the Governor-General – like the federal Parliament, and federal judges – are not subject to the operation of the FOI Act (para 33), because neither he nor his office falls within the definition of an "agency" or "prescribed authority." Making clear this general point, section 6A(1) reads: “This Act does not apply to any request for access to a document of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General unless the document relates to matters of an administrative nature.” The Court explained that documents which relate to "matters of an administrative nature" are those that “concern the management and administration of office resources,” namely, those that relate to “the office ‘apparatus’ which support[s] the exercise of the Governor-General's substantive powers and functions.” (para 41) In contrast, the documents requested related to the office’s substantive powers  (paras. 52-56).

Resources

Judgment of the Court

Facts

Ms. Kline made a request for access to documents held by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia (para. 1). The documents related to the Order of Australia and included two nomination forms for making an award, correspondence in relation to those nominations, criteria for making awards, working manuals, policy guidelines, and documents relating to review processes (para. 2). The Official Secretary determined that the documents were not of an administrative nature and denied access (paras. 3, 4).

Decision

The Court denied access to the documents, affirming the decision below (para. 57). The Court noted that the Governor-General – like the federal Parliament, and federal judges – are not subject to the operation of the FOI Act (para 33), because neither he nor his office falls within the definition of an "agency" or "prescribed authority." Making clear this general point, section 6A(1) reads: “This Act does not apply to any request for access to a document of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General unless the document relates to matters of an administrative nature.” The Court explained that documents which relate to "matters of an administrative nature" are those that “concern the management and administration of office resources,” namely, those that relate to “the office ‘apparatus’ which support[s] the exercise of the Governor-General's substantive powers and functions.” (para 41) In contrast, the documents requested related to the office’s substantive powers (paras. 52-56).