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Kline v. Official Secretary to the Governor General

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    December 6, 2013
  • Outcome
    Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Access to Information Denied
  • Case Number
    B47/2013, 2013 HCA 52
  • Region & Country
    Australia, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The High Court of Australia held that section 6A(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOIA) 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. The Applicant requested documents relating to the Australian system of honors. The Court reasoned that documents which relate to “matters of an administrative nature” are those that concern the management and administration of office resources and support the exercise of the Governor-General’s substantive powers. In contrast, the documents requested about the conferral of honors related to substantive functions of the Governor-General.

This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.


Facts

The Applicant, Ms. Kline, made a request for access to documents held by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. 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. The Official Secretary determined that the documents were not of an administrative nature and denied access.

The decision was upheld by the Australian Information Commissioner, the Tribunal and the Federal Court following which the Applicant was granted special leave to apply to the High Court.


Decision Overview

The Court denied access to the documents, affirming the decision of the lower court. The Court noted that the Governor-General – like the federal Parliament, and federal judges – was not subject to the operation of the FOIA, 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.” In contrast, the documents requested related to the office’s substantive powers.


Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Austl. Freedom of Information Act 1982
  • Austl. Freedom of Information Act 1982, sec. 6A(1)
  • Austl., Constitution 1990
  • Austl., Kline v. Official Secretary to the Governor-General, [2012] AATA 247; (2012) 127 ALD 639.
  • Austl., Kline v. Official Secretary to the Governor-General, [2012] FCAFC 184; (2012) 208 FCR 89.
  • U.K., R (Bancoult) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (No 2), [2007] EWCA Civ 498
  • Austl., Northern Territory v Collins, [2008] HCA 49; (2008) 235 CLR 619
  • Austl., Project Blue Sky Inc v. Australian Broadcasting Authority (1998) 194 CLR 355;[1998] HCA 28
  • Austl., Carr v. Western Australia [2007] HCA 47; (2007) 232 CLR 138
  • Austl., Burns v. Australian National University, [1982] FCA 59; (1982) 40 ALR 707
  • Austl., Loughnan v. Altman, [1992] FCA 580; (1992) 39 FCR 90.
  • Austl., Bienstein v Family Court of Australia [2008] FCA 1138
  • Austl., Cadia Holdings Pty Ltd v New South Wales (2010) 242 CLR 195 at 226
  • Austl., Williams v Commonwealth [2012] HCA 23
  • Austl., R v Toohey; Ex parte Northern Land Council [1981] HCA 74
  • Austl., FAI Insurances Ltd v Winneke (1982) 151 CLR 342
  • Austl., Alcan (NT) Alumina Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Territory Revenue [2009] HCA 41
  • Austl., Saeed v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2010] HCA 23
  • Austl., Registrar of Titles (WA) v Franzon [1975] HCA 41
  • Austl., Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union v Mammoet Australia Pty Ltd [2013] HCA 36
  • Austl., Fingleton v The Queen [2005] HCA 34; (2005) 227 CLR 166 at 186
  • Austl., Herijanto v Refugee Review Tribunal [2000] HCA 16

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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