STATE OF SE­CRECY

La­bor in­vokes con­fi­den­tial­ity clause 39 times

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - Daniel Mercer and Gary Ad­shead

Pre­mier Mark McGowan’s prom­ise to de­liver an open and ac­count­able gov­ern­ment has come un­der fire af­ter a dra­matic spike in the num­ber of de­ci­sions by his min­is­ters to thwart the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic.

With the State Gov­ern­ment less than half­way through its first term, fig­ures show that it has in­voked a lit­tle-known se­crecy clause to with­hold in­for­ma­tion al­most as many times as the Bar­nett gov­ern­ment did in its en­tire sec­ond term.

The Op­po­si­tion has pounced on the rev­e­la­tions, say­ing they make a mock­ery of Mr McGowan’s claims of run­ning gov­ern­ment to a “gold stan­dard” of ac­count­abil­ity.

Among the ques­tions min­is­ters have re­fused to an­swer are the names of those at­tend­ing ex­clu­sive cash-for-ac­cess

fundrais­ing din­ners, the cost to tax­pay­ers of ten­nis ace Roger Fed­erer’s “quokka selfie” and the TAB’s wa­ger­ing turnover.

A key tac­tic of the Gov­ern­ment’s for with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion has been to trig­ger sec­tion 82 of the Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment Act.

Min­is­ters have is­sued sec­tion 82 no­tices in Par­lia­ment 39 times since com­ing to power, com­pared with 55 times dur­ing Colin Bar­nett’s sec­ond term as pre­mier and just 12 in his first term.

The no­tices, which must be re­ferred to the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral, al­low the Gov­ern­ment to not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to Par­lia­ment on the grounds it is com­mer­cial or Cab­i­net in con­fi­dence or might some­how harm the State. How­ever, the Au­di­torGen­eral has found that about half the de­ci­sions were not “rea­son­able and are there­fore not ap­pro­pri­ate”.

The Gov­ern­ment is also re­ly­ing on tech­ni­cal ar­gu­ments to avoid re­leas­ing in­for­ma­tion about La­bor Party fundrais­ing events that cash in on min­is­ters’ roles and in­flu­ence.

De­spite the party re­cently charg­ing $3000 a head for “in­ti­mate” din­ners with Trans­port Min­is­ter Rita Saf­fi­oti, re­quests by The West Aus­tralian for de­tails of who paid and at­tended, and what is­sues were dis­cussed, have been blocked.

The West was re­fused ac­cess, cit­ing the FOI Act, to any cor­re­spon­dence about din­ners be­cause they did not in­volve an­other agency within Gov­ern­ment.

“In your ap­pli­ca­tion the doc­u­ments to which ac­cess has been re­fused do not re­late to the af­fairs of an­other agency and there­fore do not meet the re­quire­ments to be doc­u­ments of a min­is­ter as de­fined in the FOI Act,” the Of­fice of In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner said.

For­mer au­di­tor-gen­eral Colin Murphy, who stepped down re­cently af­ter 11 years in the role, said the num­ber of no­tices was cre­at­ing a ma­jor work­load for the of­fice.

Mr Murphy said that while in many cases there were le­git­i­mate rea­sons for not re­leas­ing in­for­ma­tion, many oth­ers were sim­ply un­rea­son­able and in­ap­pro­pri­ate. He said gov­ern­ments had to guard against a pre­sump­tion of with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion that the pub­lic of­ten had a right to know.

“The Par­lia­ment is there to scru­ti­nise the ac­tions and the ac­tiv­i­ties of the gov­ern­ment of the day, and ob­vi­ously they can’t do that if they don’t have ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion,” Mr Murphy said. “These ques­tions need to be con­sid­ered prop­erly for the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral to pro­vide an opin­ion to Par­lia­ment. It’s not a triv­ial mat­ter, that’s for sure.”

A spokesman for Mr McGowan pointed out the Gov­ern­ment had re­ceived more ques­tions in Par­lia­ment than the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, while not­ing some of the sec­tion 82 no­tices had been war­ranted.

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