Freedom of Information DBCDE Liz Forman

DBCDE FOI Decision

DBCDE FOI Decision

I, Elizabeth Forman, Assistant Secretary of the Indigenous Telecommunications Branch of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (“the Department”),

  1. being authorised by the Secretary under subsection 23(1 ) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (“the FOI Act”) to make decisions in relation to access: and
  2. required under section 26 of the FOI Act to provide a Statement of Reasons for my decision,

make the following statement setting out my findings on material questions of fact, referring to the evidence or other material upon which those findings were based and giving the reasons for my decision.

2. The documents covered by your request and that are held by the Department, are listed in a Schedule (“Schedule A”) attached to this Statement of Reasons.

The following documents contain information that relates to the deliberative processes of a former Minister and Government:

The CoTs disputes involve owners of small businesses who have grievances with Telstra relating to the supply of telecommunications services by Telstra. The CoTs disputes have a long and protracted history, and the disputants have been making  representations to government for some time. Originally, four individuals who ran small businesses and who had grievances with Telstra (then Telecom Australia) grouped together and called themselves ‘the Casualties of Telecom’. Some of these disputes date from as far back as the late 1980’sl early 1990’s. Since that time, more individuals and businesses with complaints about the supply of telecommunications services by Telstra have joined with the original CoTs and have used the terms ‘CoTs’ or ‘Casualties of Telstra’ to identify their grievances.

Since the early 1990’s the Federal Government has been petitioned by people calling themselves CoTs in relation to their disputes with Telecom Australia/Telstra (henceforth referred to as “Telstra”). The current Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, as well as a number of for Communication Ministers and Members of Parliament, have received numerous items of correspondence from various CoTs disputants. From time to time, the Department and the former Department of Communications, Information Technology and Arts, has responded to this correspondence on the behalf of the respective Minister.

There has been a deliberative process by the Government in relation to possible action that it may be appropriate for the Government, the Minister or the Department to take in relation to the representations made by the CoTs disputants. That deliberative process has involved consideration of what more (if anything) may be done by the Government in relation to the CoTs grievances and what possible steps may be taken to
assist in bringing these disputes to an end. To the extent that these disputes have not been settled and/or the disputants continue to make representations, that deliberative process continues.

As the CoTs claims are disputes between Telstra and its customers, the Department and the Minister’s Office have consulted with Telstra from time to time in relation to these disputes.

However, the public interest factor against disclosure of both documents is very strong. In respect of document 44, the decision-making process that led to the CoTs independent assessment process cannot be seen in isolation. The CoTs disputes have a long history and it may be expected that those individuals involved in the disputes will continue to make representations to Government about their disputes with Telstra.
Further, in relation to document 29 and 40, disclosure of the opinion is not necessarily reflective of the content of the final decision or all the factors taken into consideration in reaching the final decision and therefore, the disclosure of such may create a misleading impression.

In these circumstances, I consider that, given the potential for the Government and the Minister to have an ongoing role in these disputes, the factors against disclosure of the document outweigh the factors in favour of disclosure of those identified parts of document 29 and document 44 in its entirety. I have therefore decided that document 44 is wholly exempt under section 36 of the FOI Act and that parts of documents 29 and 40 detailing opinions are exempt.


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