DFAT FOI request: Bohemian Grove festival

[Documents requested: copies of submissions, briefings, talking points, cables or other official correspondence or documents sent to and/or from former Foreign Minister Bob Carr and to Ambassador to the United States of America Kim Beazley and/or their offices that relate to the Bohemian Gove Festival in July 2012.]

Dear Ms Allan

I refer to your email of 13 December 2013 and request a waiver of the $380.45 fee pursuant to section 29(5)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act).

On 29 October 2013 it was reported that the then foreign affairs minister, Bob Carr, attended “the weirdest ritual in American elite politics, the Bohemian Grove festival” at the request of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who is perhaps more well known, among other things,  for helping “President Nixon engineer and then protect the Pinochet coup and regime of torture and murder and directed the first phase of the holocaust in Cambodia (1969-75).”

The October 2013 Fairfax report was the first time that the Australian public became aware of Mr Carr’s attendance at “the festival”. No other details have been forthcoming about the costs and/or benefits to Australian taxpayers; the nature of the meetings held and with whom; nor has information been provided to the Australian public in relation to the outcome of the attendance.

On 30 October 2013 Mr Carr confirmed publicly that the  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “enthusiastically endorsed” his attendance and that Ambassador Kim Beazley also attended [“the weirdest ritual in American elite politics, the Bohemian Grove festival”] on departmental advice.

Mr Carr also alleges that he was given the “opportunity to explain and argue an Australian perspective: on Asia, on China, on our nearest neighbour Indonesia” to [unnamed] government officials with influence on policy. Again, the Australian public have not been provided with any details of those discussions – even in summary form – nor has it been explained to the Australian public why the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade felt it necessary to encourage the attendance of Messrs Carr and Beazley at an event which has been described as “two weeks of heavy drinking, super-secret talks, druid worship and other rituals” or why the attendance at such an event was in Australia’s National Interests particularly given the myriad of other meetings, events and summits scheduled throughout any given year whereby the opportunity would arise to discuss Australia’s perspective on Asia, China and Indonesia and where women are cordially invited rather than deliberately excluded.

It is a matter of public record that matters including the issue of Australia’s alliance with the United States, meetings attended by or on behalf of our government officials and ministers (current and former) and Australia’s position on foreign policy issues are clearly matters in the general public interest and/or in the interest of a substantial section of the public.  Mr Carr’s explanation for attending also strongly implies that his attendance was justified in the interests of the Australian public.

Copies of submissions, briefings, talking points, cables or other official correspondence or documents sent to or from former Foreign Minister Bob Carr and to Ambassador to the United States of America Kim Beazley and/or their offices that relate to the Bohemian Gove Festival in July 2012 are documents which clearly may reveal to the Australian public important information about the position taken by the Department in this unusual case.

I accordingly request that the fee be waived.

I look forward to hearing from you.

DFAT’s response – 22 January 2014

….’In your email of 13 January 2014, you requested a waiver of the charges associated with the processing of your request. I am a decision-maker with respect to processing charges authorised in accordance with the provisions of Section 23(1) of the FOI Act.  I am writing to inform you that I have decided to reduce the charges by 50 per cent to $190.22 on public interest grounds available under the Act.

Please note that at this stage in the FOI process, no decision has been made as to whether the information you seek will be released or exempt under the provisions of the FOI Act. My decision relates only to the processing charges.

In considering your application to waive charges on public interest grounds in accordance with Section 29 of the FOI Act, I have taken into account whether the giving of access to the documents is in the public interest, as opposed to being of the public interest.

I have considered the general question as to whether the benefit from the release of the information contained in the particular documents will flow to the public at large, or a substantial section of the public, as well as to the specific individual or organisation requesting the documents.

While I accept that documents relating to attendance at the Bohemian Grove festival in July 2012 may be of interest to a section of the community, I do not consider that giving access to the documents you seek is ‘in the general public interest or in the interest of a substantial section of the public’ as provided for in the Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner [4.52]. It is possible, however, that the documents to which you have sought access may contribute in part to an understanding of an aspect of the Australia-United States bilateral relationship…’

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