Today the ABC reports “Tax Office imposes blanket ban on FOI requests via Right To Know website”. In the article the OpenAustralia Foundation’s response provides the context of the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) refusal to process valid FOI requests made through the Right To Know. We hope to see the ATO continue to process your requests, as they have for the previous 4 years, and return to complying with the Freedom of Information guidelines of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Here’s the response we sent through to Simon Elvery at the ABC in full:
Up to now we’ve had a good working relationship with the ATO. We’re genuinely baffled by the reasoning they use to justify their refusal to process requests via Right To Know.
Since receiving their first FOI request from a person using Right To Know almost 4 years ago the ATO has helpfully responded to dozens of other requests. From time to time we receive takedown requests from people and government agencies and we act on each and every one of them in line with our clear takedown policy.
In total, the ATO has sent us 5 takedown requests. We give every request serious consideration and have responded to each within a day. We agreed with 4 requests and promptly acted on them to remove the material. One of the most recent requests did not meet our takedown policy so we have not taken it down.
We’ve previously been asked to redact the names of ATO staff due to a processing error made by the ATO which put their staff at risk. We responded within an hour and agreed to take down the material, giving the ATO time to supply correctly redacted documents a few days later.
In this case we have not been asked to redact names. Instead we were asked to remove a request by a member of the public for an internal review into the decision about their FOI request. The ATO claimed that they found it abusive towards their staff members. The ATO’s takedown request did not meet our takedown policy, so we have left the request up on Right To Know.
We work hard to ensure that Right To Know is a safe environment where people can work productively with government on furthering the government’s own goals of being open and transparent. We stand by our community and join their polite and respectful calls to the ATO to start processing the valid FOI requests made to them by people using righttoknow.org.au.
And here’s the ATO’s statement that the ABC provided us:
The ATO’s decision to cease processing requests via the Right to Know website does not relate to one specific case. Rather, this decision was taken due to our concerns about systemic issues with the management of FOI requests through this website. In particular:
- Publishing all procedural material about FOI requests is not acceptable, nor is having no contact number, address or ability to respond promptly to email requests.
- We are particularly concerned with the names of staff processing the FOI request being published on the website, when this information is not relevant to the FOI application.
- We also have concerns that the website takes no responsibility for supervising posts or removing unacceptable material, and the ATO will not be exposing staff to this risk.
- The ATO complies fully with the FOI legislation. People can make FOI requests direct to the ATO by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or through the paper form available at www.ato.gov.au