20 January 2012

Aussie MINDEF releases 116 "hot issue briefs" in a bid to make ADF more transparent to the public

Today the Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith released 116 Department of Defence Hot Issue Briefs, covering the period from 14 September 2010 to the present day. The released information can be found here.

Since being appointed Minister for Defence on 14 September 2010, Mr Smith has received from the Department of Defence 248 Hot Issue Briefs.

Hot Issue Briefs provide initial and early advice to the Minister and Defence’s senior leaders on sensitive or complex matters or incidents that may require the immediate attention of Defence’s senior leadership.

Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, and in response to requests from media outlets, Defence has progressively made public its Hot Issue Briefs, most recently through the release this month of 142 Briefs covering the period 1 July 2010 to 8 November 2011.

Of the 142 Briefs released this month;

· 80 are personnel related, involving a range of incidents including inappropriate behaviour, and other personal matters;

· 31 are capability related; and

· 31 cover a range of other matters (such as loss of equipment, release of notable reports, and discovery of unexploded ordnance).

“Today’s release will see 245 of the 248 Hot Issue Briefs received by me since becoming Minister placed in the public domain,” said Mr Smith.

Of the 116 Briefs released today:

· 58 are personnel related, involving a range of incidents including inappropriate behaviour, and other personal matters;

· 16 are capability related; and

· 42 cover a range of other matters (such as loss of equipment, release of notable reports and discovery of unexploded ordnance).

67 of these incidents were reported to civil police or the ADF Investigative Service for investigation and 3 were reported to the Defence Security Authority and relate to the potential theft of documents.

Only 3 Briefs are not being released at this time as they would prejudice ongoing matters. They will be released at a subsequent time.

Mr Smith has also directed a change to the Hot Issue Brief process, aimed at streamlining its process and enhancing transparency.

“I have asked Defence to ensure the regular and ongoing release of Hot Issue Briefs, as a general proposition, no later than one week after their submission to me,” said Mr Smith.

Exceptions to this rule will be individually and personally approved by the Secretary of Defence or the Chief of the Defence Force and be based solely on the criteria that any public release would:

· endanger operational outcomes;

· prejudice legal proceedings; or

· impede or prejudice ADF Investigate Service (ADFIS) or civil police investigations.

Some redaction of information in the Briefs should be expected. These are undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, and based on the removal of information that may:

· identify an individual without their consent;

· contain commercial-in-confidence or legal-in-confidence elements; or

· release operational or classified information.

“This approach is consistent with the key changes to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 that came into effect on 1 November 2010, and the Information Publication Scheme.

“As well, the Black Review of the Defence Accountability Framework challenged Defence to enhance individual and collective accountability. Placing on the public record Defence’s advice to me on these issues – including instances of inappropriate behaviour – is a part of that accountability,” said Mr Smith. The Black Review can be found here.

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