Tribunal: Senior Member C Puplick AM
The fundamental premise of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 is that people should have access to government records and information, and in particular, information held about them personally.
The applicant claimed to be born on 13 November 1966 and sought to have her official records held by the Department of Home Affairs (the Department) altered. The Department refused to amend its records. This case concerned a very simple question: on what date was the applicant born? The Department’s records showed that the applicant was born on 13 November 1954. The applicant, who was born in the Philippines, claimed that her father changed her birth date on her birth certificate so that she would be of legal age for marriage. The AAT was asked to review whether the Department’s decision should be amended in order to ensure accuracy of Commonwealth records.
The key question for the AAT to answer was whether the information about the applicant’s birth date was “incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading”. The AAT needed to determine if there was sufficient evidence of the applicant’s birth date and the authenticity of the documents produced.
This case had been ongoing for fifteen years and has involved government departments, federal courts, the Australian Information Commissioner, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the AAT. It also involved issues related to the applicant’s family history in the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Australia.
In the decision, issues of official records, family recollections and medical evidence were discussed. The AAT affirmed the Department’s assessment that their records were not ‘incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading’. One critical piece of evidence used to reach this conclusion was the birth certificate of one of the applicant’s siblings – a full biological brother. This sibling’s birth certificate was uncontested and showed that he was born on 23 November 1966. The AAT found it was not possible for the applicant to have been born ten days before her brother. The AAT found the applicant’s believed birth date was false and affirmed the decision under review.
Read the full decision on AustLII.