Brandis diaries case shows how FoI has been deliberately neglected

Benign neglect of Freedom of Information reform has undermined the institutional capacity to deliver effective, informed and high-quality advice. The perception that ministers and public servants are not playing fair grows.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has lost a two-year bid to keep the summaries of meetings in his ministerial diary from being considered for release under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act.

A Federal Court judge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and a full Federal Court bench decided the reasons advanced on Brandis’ behalf to not process a Freedom of Information request were less than persuasive.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who originally filed the FoI request, called the decision “a victory for transparency and accountability” and has hailed the case as a landmark. Yet as a “landmark” decision, it speaks more forcefully to how both the Abbott and Turnbull governments have allowed the Commonwealth FoI Act to fall into a state of neglect.

The Brandis decision laid bare the inadequate and flimsy nature of the exemption claims made by the Attorney-General’s Department. Ironically, in the first two decades of the Commonwealth FoI Act, the Attorney-General’s Department was regarded by many as its fiercest advocate and guardian. Under Brandis it has forsaken that worthy heritage.

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