Tribunal rules in favour of allowing access to George Brandis’ ministerial diary

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(L-R) Australia's Attorney-General George Brandis talks with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan during a news conference after their meeting at the Political, Legal, and Security Ministry office in Jakarta, December 21, 2015. Reuters/Beawiharta

The administrative appeals tribunal on Tuesday ruled that Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus’ request to access excerpts of Attorney-General George Brandis’ ministerial diary be granted. The tribunal has found that there is no reason for refusing the request.

After being denied access to diary entries between Feb. 18, 2013 and Mar. 27, 2014, Dreyfus took the matter to the administrative appeals tribunal. Dreyfus had requested access to Brandis’ diary under Freedom to Information laws but was denied by Brandis’ office on grounds that allowing such an access would come in the way of Brandis’ ministerial duties. He had been seeking access since May last year.

During a hearing in November, the tribunal heard from Brandis’ chief-of-staff, Paul O’Sullivan, that allowing access to the diary would require permission from around hundred people with whom Brandis had held meeting during that time. O’Sullivan had also pointed to security concerns that might result from disclosing Brandis’ “regular movements or arrangements.”

However, Justice Jayne Jagot noted that since Dreyfus has requested access to the entries that are 18 months old, there is no need to disclose the current arrangements. Even though she admitted that there could be some risk in making certain facts public, such as the airline preferred by Brandis, other information in the diary are general, while many of the entries are not more than a succinct one line description.

The ABC reported that Jagot has also refused to accept the estimated amount of time that would be required to process the request.  

"I accept that the work will not be trivial or insignificant," she said. "But that does not mean that such work is likely to involve a substantial interference with the performance of the attorney-general's functions."

After O’Sullivan pointed to security concerns associated with giving access to the diary, Dreyfus argued that the request should be granted on grounds of undeniable public interest in it and that Brandis’ office has not properly interpreted the exemptions under the Freedom of Information law.

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