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Pussy Galore clogs ASIC with FOI requests

Date

Phillip Thomson

Sean Connery as James Bond and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, 1964.

Sean Connery as James Bond and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, 1964. Photo: Supplied

An Administrative Appeals Tribunal judgment has declared Phillip Charles Sweeney a vexatious Freedom of Information applicant who showed disregard for the law.

The man from Highton, Victoria, diverted federal public servants from other tasks for several hundred hours when he sent 160 applications for information to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in about 180 weeks. 

When he identified himself on the written requests as "James Bond - 007 (Licensed to Kill)", they were considered a potential security threat and referred to the risk management team, even though he was later considered safe.   

He signed other requests as "Pussy Galore", "Auric Goldfinger" and "Odd Job". The three monikers refer to the fictional female gang leader, arch bad-guy and henchman from Goldfinger, the novel about Bond made into a film.

While using the pseudonyms, Sweeney did not give his real name but confirmed to the tribunal that he was the person behind the requests.

Forty-five requests took public servants five hours or more to deal with.

More than 40 of his requests repeated, at least in part, FoIs he had lodged previously and the tribunal said his excuse of forgetfulness seemed unlikely.  

"Staff members have expressed extreme frustration and dissatisfaction that they have been prevented from performing other duties," the judgment said. 

Members of the public have a right to request documents from federal departments under FoI legislation for various reasons, although the process can be drawn out and sometimes expensive.

In the past seven years, Mr Sweeney has been seeking to expose what he believes is fraudulent conduct involving the administration of a trust established in 1913 for the benefit of the employees of a major Australian company and their dependants. He has been dogged in his pursuit of documents which may establish that such a fraud has been committed.

"It may transpire that Mr Sweeney becomes well-known as a whistle-blower who persevered, notwithstanding the many obstacles he had to overcome," the judgment said.

"However it is not necessary for the purposes of this application to consider whether Mr Sweeney’s concerns are well-founded."

A year ago the Australian Information Commissioner ruled Sweeney as a vexatious applicant and said ASIC did not need to consider his requests, unless he had the commissioner's permission. But Sweeney kept sending requests to ASIC under pseudonyms in what he said was an attempt to prove a flaw in the system. He attempted to have the vexatious applicant label lifted in the appeals tribunal but it found his barrage of requests, with a number under false names, distressed some staff and interfered with the operation of ASIC. 

In declaring Sweeney a vexatious applicant, the tribunal imposed restrictions on the number of requests he could lodge and the number of documents he could ask for in a request and has banned him from using a pseudonym when asking for information from ASIC.

The tribunal noted ASIC could have imposed fees or time extensions to better deal with Sweeney's requests.

His restrictions were due to be lifted in January.  

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