Saturday, October 19, 2013

For Hockey's ears only. Treasury shuts the door on FOI

So far, for now

So worried is the Treasury about its ability to establish “an effective working relationship” with its new Treasurer Joe Hockey that it is attempting to block access to its incoming government brief under freedom of information laws.

It’s a turnaround from Treasury’s position in 2007 when it released a redacted version the incoming government brief prepared for Labor’s Wayne Swan.

“Release of the incoming government briefs would interfere with the establishment of an effective working relationship between the Treasury and Treasurer,” the department says in a letter to news organisations refusing FOI requests released late Friday.

“The need to develop a trusting relationship is particularly important in the early days of a new government, to set the tone for the future working relationship of the whole department,” the letter says.

Disclosure “would not be conducive to establishing a productive, trusting and effective relationship with the Treasurer and would adversely affect Treasury’s effectiveness as a central policy agency.”

The letter advises media organisations of their rights of appeal.

Peter Timmins, a lawyer specialising in freedom of information litigation, said he wasn’t surprised...

“That’s the way the bureaucracy has been moving for some years,’ he said. “They are increasingly speaking about the need to offer frank and candid advice. Former Attorney General Nicola Roxon used the phrase herself in setting up an inquiry into the laws earlier this year. The inquiry found that the existing laws did protect frank and candid advice, but the attitude of the bureaucrats has been hardening.”

Mr Timmins said he doubted whether Treasury would win an appeal. Some of the information in the brief, such as that dealing with economic conditions, would be uncontentious and could easily be released without compromising Treasury’s ability to talk to its minister.

In The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Related Reading

. Peter Timmins: Will 'Blue books' inform public discussion and debate?

. Peter Timmins: Blue book 2010 decision likely to be compulsory reading

. Peter Timmins: Incoming government briefs: what's changed since 2010?

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