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Single freedom of information request ends up costing taxpayers $80,000

The Department of Agriculture has been lashed at a Senate Estimates hearing for an $80,000 review into how it handles freedom of information requests.

Taxpayers are forking out the money after a FoI request from opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon was badly handled.

Mr Fitzgibbon's request related to changes made to hansard by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's staff. 

Labor senator Doug Cameron said the review seemed like a waste of money because public servants should be well versed in dealing with FoIs. 

"Why do you need specialised professional skills from Ernst and Young to deal with something that's fundamentally a public service issue?" Senator Cameron said. 


The department's staff at the hearing rejected claims by senators that the consultants cost $1000 an hour. 

The department's acting secretary Phillip Glyde said independent scrutiny of Agriculture's FoI processing was important. 

"In light of acknowledged errors we had made in the handling of an FoI request we thought it best to have an independent review of the general handling of requests," he said. 

"I know it's a lot of money but it's a worthwhile investment given the sensitivities of getting FoI request handling right.

"We are a department that doesn't deal with many requests."

The review was comparing the department's processes with best practice models within the public service.

Mr Glyde's predecessor Paul Grimes was sacked earlier this year after his relationship with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce broke down.

Tensions arose after Mr Joyce's staff altered the official hansard transcript of Parliament to correct statements on the minister's drought assistance to farmers.