It is one of the first appeals lodged against the AAT since the Federal Government last week announced it was abolishing the Tribunal because it had been “irreversibly damaged” by political appointments.
In a notice of appeal lodged at the Federal Court late yesterday, lawyers for technology expert and human rights advocate Justin Warren say there were multiple breaches of procedural fairness in the way the Tribunal carried out the hearing.
The appeal notice alleges the Tribunal erred in its decision around what can be exempted from FOI release under the Cabinet document exemption, and that the Tribunal also failed to properly evaluate submissions by Mr Warren’s lawyers regarding the public interest in disclosure.
Maurice Blackburn special counsel Jacinta Lewin said: “The AAT’s decision to block the release of these documents has upheld the secrecy around what the former government knew when it set up the failed Robodebt scheme. In this appeal, we are asking the Court to address important issues about procedural fairness and consider the state of FOI law to ensure that FOI Cabinet exemptions are not used to limit transparency around government decision-making into the future.”
Chadwick Wong, acting General Counsel at Grata Fund, said: “Robust FOI laws are fundamental to Australia’s democracy. They allow the public to hold governments to account for failures like the Robodebt scheme that cost taxpayers $112 million in compensation and caused significant harm. Justin’s case is critical to ensuring that the system works as intended.”
Justin Warren said: “Knowing what our government is up to is an important democratic principle. The reflexive secrecy of successive Australian governments must come to an end. I hope that a Federal Court ruling on this matter will remind the public service that they are there to serve us, publicly.”
The documents at the centre of the case include early business plans produced by the Department of Human Services – now known as Services Australia – to justify the unlawful Robodebt scheme.
The full set of documents could reveal what former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and senior ministers including Christian Porter and Alan Tudge knew about the unlawful scheme when they had responsibility for the program.
Mr Warren first requested access to the documents through FOI in 2017. In its finding handed down on 2 December, the Tribunal decided that only one document of the 12 being contested would be released.
This case forms part of Grata Fund’s FOI Project and is being run pro bono by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Social Justice Practice.
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