But wait, there’s more … five hours before Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had to file submissions with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to justify an unlawful decision to refuse access to his official diary, he’s caved in to the rule of law. So what’s the scam?
The scam is that the PM has only partially caved in. I asked for 197 days of diary entries, and in the end I got 100, with “one additional month (of your choosing) of further diary requests” – the steak knives.
In December last year, I applied under Freedom of Information laws for access to the PM’s diary back to the date he entered office. Despite the Full Federal Court having ruled, in a case initiated by now Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, that 237 days of a minister’s diary was a reasonable FOI ask (for a minister with less than half the staff of the current PM), my request was met with a big fat “no” from Albanese’s office.
Of course, I wasn’t going to let the PM get away with this secrecy, so I challenged the decision in the AAT.
At the eleventh hour, the PM’s legal minions have written to me with an offer to end the proceedings. He’s willing to hand over the first 100 days of his diary.
But wait, there’s more.
In order to sweeten the deal, he’s thrown in the FOI equivalent of a set of steak knives. I can access one a further month of the PM’s diary – any month I want.
That’s the deal. It’s a partial, tactical capitulation with a bonus offer attached.
It’s a bit surprising to find the PM’s lawyers offering up bits of his diary in the manner of those late-night shopping channel TV presenters who sell vacuum cleaners and exercise machines.
Of course, I’ve got a Full Federal Court ruling that’s ‘on point’ and in my favour. So, I won’t be accepting the set of FOI steak knives. There are important principles of legal precedent and transparency at ‘steak’.
The PM knows the list of lobbyists he meets with is properly subject to scrutiny. Yet he’s put costly public servants and expensive lawyers in the way in a very deliberate effort to slow down the process. He knows he couldn’t stop the release, so he’s spent taxpayers’ money putting up administrative and legal roadblocks to delay the inevitable.
That’s a win for him, but it’s at more cost to his political reputation and credibility.
The Labor Leader who promised a new era of Government transparency and accountability now looks all too much like his secrecy obsessed predecessor.
It’s a pyrrhic victory, and the war is far from over.