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Friday, February 27, 2009

Cover closed on Premier's full book of appointments

Morris Iemma at the ALP Conference on 4 May 2008- Sydney Morning Herald.

Sean Parnell, FOI editor at The Australian was unsuccessful in this case before the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal seeking review of a decision by the Office of the Premier refusing access to the diary of former Premier Iemma for 3 May last year, the day during the NSW Labor Party Conference when the former Premier may have met some of those attending the conference as business observers.

The decision turned on whether the diary for that day was a minister's document defined in Section 6 of the NSW Freedom of Information Act as a document held by a minister that relates to the affairs of an agency.The Tribunal accepted that the Premier's diary for any day included details of planned appointments for him in his capacity as Premier and Minister for Citizenship, as the Member for Lakemba, as leader of the NSW Labor Party and as a private citizen, but was not altered to reflect changes that occurred and was not an accurate record of who he actually met on any particular day.

Judicial Member Pearson[30] said a document must have some connection with the affairs of an agency to fall within the definition. A document that relates to the Minister as a member of Parliament, as a member of a political party, or in his or her private capacity would not be a minister's document. She said the wording of Section 6 was sufficiently broad to cover documents held by a minister relating to any agency not just the agency for which the minister was responsible. In the case of the Premier, that would include all government agencies.

Despite Parnell's submission that the Premier attended the Conference as Premier, and that promotional material referred to him and other members of his government attending by their ministerial titles, Judicial Member Pearson[33] found the diary entries for the day related only to the Premier's appointments in his capacity as a member of the ALP. As she was not satisfied that
the document "relates to" the affairs of any agency, there was no right of access under the FOI Act and the application for review was dismissed.

Parnell's successes in getting access to similar information using FOI in Queensland and Western Australia were of no help to his argument. Nor was his submission that "political parties in most states have, for some years, sold access to premiers, chief ministers and ministers through a business observers program at their annual party conference...The attendance of a Premier or Minister is confirmed by their office, using taxpayer funds, time and resources, and invariably involves briefings and preparation by ministerial and departmental staff."

Trust us, we're the government, we're your friends.

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