Kline v Official Secretary to the Governor-General

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against the decision of the Full Federal Court in Kline, in which the FCAFC upheld the Administrative Appeals Tribunal affirmation of an administrative decision to deny Kline access to documents held by the Official Secretary to the Governor General. Kline made an application under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) to access documents relating to Australia’s national honours system held by the Official Secretary, who manages the system. Kline had nominated a person to be appointed to the Order of Australia in 2007 and 2009, but on both occasions that person was not appointed, and in 2011 Kline sought to access documents relating to those nominations. Section 6A of the FOI Act states that the Act does not apply to documents held by the Official Secretary unless they relate to ‘matters of an administrative nature’. The Official Secretary reviewed the application and decided that no relevant administrative documents existed. Deputy President Hack of the AAT found that the documents properly related to substantive functions of the Governor-General and did not ordinarily relate to matters of an administrative nature, and affirmed the Official Secretary’s decision. That decision was upheld by the FCAFC.

Among other things, the High Court examined the proper construction of the term ‘matters of an administrative nature’ and, more generally, the distinction between the substantive functions and powers of the Governor-General and administrative procedures or assistance that supports those powers and functions. The majority (French CJ, Crennan, Kiefel and Bell JJ) held that the exception relating to ‘matters of an administrative nature’ connoted documents concerning the management and administration of office resources; the office ‘apparatus’ that supports the exercise of the Governor-General’s substantive powers and functions. The majority held that the correspondence and file notes relevant to Kline’s nominations and internal working manuals and policy guidelines relevant to the making of awards were directly related to the exercise of those substantive powers, and therefore fell outside s 6A(1).

High Court Judgment [2013] HCA 52 6 December 2013
Result Appeal dismissed
High Court Documents Kline
Full Court Hearing [2013] HCATrans 259  30 October 2013
Special Leave Hearing [2013] HCATrans 180 16 August 2013
Appeal from FCAFC [2012] FCAFC 184  19 December 2012
AATA Decision [2012] AATA 247  30 April 2012
This entry was posted in Case Pages, Decided Cases by Martin Clark. Bookmark the permalink.

About Martin Clark

Martin Clark is a PhD Candidate and Judge Dame Rosalyn Higgins Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School. He holds honours degrees in law, history and philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and an MPhil in Law from MLS. While at MLS, he worked as a researcher for several senior faculty members, was a 2012 Editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law, tutor at MLS and various colleges, a Jessie Legatt Scholar, and attended the Center for Transnational Legal Studies Program.