After an epic 12-month battle against improper secrecy in the Prime Minister’s office, Anthony Albanese’s 2022 diary has finally been released under the compulsion of an Administrative Appeals Tribunal order. Rex Patrick and Philip Dorling report on the stories it tells.
Delay is a Win
Information … timely information … is the currency of power in a democracy. And so while Albanese has lost the fight to keep his diary secret, the loss is tempered by the fact that the released information is dated and now of less utility in public debate about national affairs.
A clear example of this lies in relation to the Parliament’s inquiry into a decision by Transport Minister Catherine King to decline a Qatar Airlines request to increase flight numbers to and from Australia.
The Senate held a legitimate inquiry into Minister Catherine King’s decision in September and October of this year. The decision made little sense.
Australians have been mistreated by Qantas. The High Court found that Qantas illegally sacked 1,700 workers during COVID. The ACCC reported that complaints about the airline increased by 70% in 2022 and have now commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against Qantas for selling cancelled flights and not notifying cancellations ticket holders for up to 48 days; Qantas has also been keeping international ticket prices high in a tight market.
Qatar offered an opportunity for Australian passengers to enjoy lower airfares and economic benefits of from more inbound tourism.
There was also inquiry in the House of Representatives and the media, focussing on Albanese’s role in the decision. How much effect did Albanese’s mateship with then Qantas CEO Alan Joyce have on the decision? How much did the gifting by Joyce of exclusive Chairman’s lounge membership to Albanese’s son have on the decision (none I suspect, but what a politically smelly and stupid thing for Albanese to have allowed)?
In the sitting weeks of 4 and 11 September 2023, Albanese was asked on several occasions whether he’d met with Joyce. Opposition questions were broad and narrow – but not on target. Albanese eventually provided the bland and uninformative response, “I can confirm I’ve met Alan Joyce”.
If only Albanese’s office had lawfully responded to the December 2022 FOI diary request.
A November Meeting with Qantas chief Alan Joyce
Qatar made its request to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DITRDCA) on 22 August 2022.
On September 30, DITRDCA invited Qantas (and Virgin) to make a submission on Qatar’s application. Qantas responded to the Department on October 14, opposing the application.
Albanese’s diary shows Joyce met with him for half an hour on November 23.
Albanese’s Diary 23 November 2022 (Source: FOI)
It’s almost implausible that, in a private meeting between Albanese and Joyce, that Joyce would not have raised the Qatar issue.
Because of the delay in the diary being released, specific details about that meeting were not sought when Parliament probed the matter (an FOI has now been made seeking access to the meeting request, the PM’s brief for the meeting and notes taken during the meeting).
Meeting with ministers and parliamentarians
Although the Prime Minister’s diary doesn’t give full details about contact and consultation with other Ministers (for example, contact at caucus, in the chamber, in cabinet, in prompt meetings, and ad hoc phone calls), it does show a broad pattern of political behaviour including his in-person private meetings with colleagues.
Unsurprisingly, outside of regular Cabinet meetings, the most frequent meetings were with the inner leadership group of Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher.
Other Cabinet Ministers’ one-on-one meetings with Albanese were much less frequent, with Climate Minister Chris Bowen and Industry Minister Ed Husic being the most engaged. The majority of Albanese’s Cabinet colleagues each had fewer one-on-one meetings with Albanese than Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who appears in the Prime Minister’s diary four times.
Several Cabinet Ministers are not mentioned at all in Albanese’s diary, including Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell, Attorney-General and Cabinet Secretary Mark Dreyfus, Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.
In terms of backbenchers, Josh Wilson (Member for Fremantle) and Peter Khalil, (chair of the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence Committee) were among the few to sit down for any individual time with the Prime Minister at Parliament House.
With a narrow Labor majority in the House of Representatives, Albanese appears to focussed his early and quite limited cross-bench engagement on the Senate, meeting with independent Senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock as well as United Australia Party Senator Ralph Babet.
The only two independents in the House of Representatives to have one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister between June and early December 2022 were Andrew Wilkie and Helen Haines.
Other cross-benchers, including the newly elected Teal MPs, were covered with two group meetings, one in October and the other in November 2022, each of 45 minutes duration.
Meeting with former PMs
Having finally won the highest political office in the land, Albanese appears to have felt no great need to confer with his Labor predecessors and former colleagues.
Before travelling to Indonesia, he spent half an hour with former Labor leader and then Governor of Western Australia, Kim Beasley.
He similarly gave former Prime Minister Paul Keating just thirty minutes of time.
Former Foreign and Defence Minister Stephen Smith met with Albanese twice and was later appointed to co-lead the Defence Strategic Review into the Australian Defence Force and then to serve as Australia’s High Commissioner in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott got 30 minutes of Albanese’s time, but no other former Prime Ministers have appointments listed in the first six months of Albanese’s diary.
Meeting with department heads
As would be expected, in the first days of fully formed government, Albanese received 45-minute briefs each from Australia’s domestic and international spy agencies, ASIO and ASIS.
He also took a half-hour briefing on COVID.
Albanese’s Diary 2 June 2022 (Source: FOI)
Albanese appears to have little individual contact with other departmental secretaries and agency heads, though his diary shows meeting the Director-Generals of the Office of National Intelligence, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Chief of the Defence Force from time to time outside Cabinet National Security Committee meetings.
Albanese met with Kerri Hartland prior to her appointment as the new Director-General of ASIS and then Deputy Secretary Governance PM&C Stephanie Foster prior to her appointment as Associate Secretary at the Department of Home Affairs. No individual meetings are listed between Albanese and then Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo.
Press conferences, television interviews, and talkback radio sessions feature prominently in the Prime Minister’s schedule.
Print journalists afforded the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister included the Guardian Australia’s political editor Katherine Murphy, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Nikki Savva, SMH political and international editor Peter Hartcher, SMH national affairs correspondent James Massola, Network Ten political editor Peter Van Onselen (twice), Seven News political editor Mark Riley, and foreign affairs editor at The Australian, Greg Sheridan.
Albanese has engaged with the big media players. On 7 July 2022, he had an hour-long meeting with Michael Miller, executive chairman for News Corp Australia. However, James Warburton, managing director and chief executive officer of Seven West Media, got only 15 minutes on December 5.
The Prime Minister has not met with Michael West.
The selected few
The Prime Minister’s one-on-one meetings with major business figures were relatively few, but those that are listed stand out in a schedule largely dominated by political, government and diplomatic activities.
Mining giant Rio Tinto got through the Prime Minister’s door early with an hour-long meeting on 15 June 2020, a little more than two weeks after the appointment of the full Labor ministry.
A day later, then Northern Territory chief minister Natasha Fyles saw Albanese for an hour in the company of Japanese oil and gas giant INPEX’s chief executive Takayuki Ueda, presumably to discuss the further development of the Ichthys gas field and LNG supplies to Japan.
Udea would later publicly criticise the Albanese government’s legislated intervention in coal and gas markets, making the extraordinary and unsubstantiated claim that Australian price regulation would be “a direct threat to the rules-based international order essential to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region, if not the world. He was highly critical of the Albanese government’s key climate change policy measure; the Safeguard Mechanism.
In contrast to the time given to Rio Tinto and INPEX, Fortescue Metals chairman Andrew Forrest got just 25 minutes of the Prime Minister’s time before the opening of the Sydney Energy Forum on 12 July 2022.
And, as above, former Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, Alan Joyce got some exclusive time with the PM.
More diary requests
In 2016 now, High Court Justice Jagot ruled that
… there is a significant public interest in knowing the outline of the daily activities of elected representatives, particularly a senior Minister ….
We should know who is influencing our ministers and Prime Minister. Official diaries of ministers are proactively released in QLD, NSW and the ACT.
The FOI request made in December last year for access to Albanese’s diary took a year to yield results, a delay that was entirely the work of the Prime Minister’s office, presumably with his knowledge and concurrence. Further requests will be made for his 2023 diary, and hopefully, Albanese will have belatedly worked out that resistance is futile and politically harmful.
Only when he stops spending public money and stops governing us, in accordance with the powers we granted him through the Parliament, will he be able to rightfully say “you can’t see my diary”.