The challenge has been brought by transparency advocate and former senator Rex Patrick in relation to an FOI application for documents connected with the ‘sports rorts’ affair.
The initial request was made in 2020 to the then attorney-general, Christian Porter, who refused access to the documents.
Mr Patrick asked the Information Commissioner to review the refusal, but this review was not finalised before Michaelia Cash replaced Mr Porter as attorney-general in 2021, and Mark Dreyfus replaced Ms Cash as attorney-general in 2022.
In 2023, the Information Commissioner decided the documents in question were no longer in the possession of the then Attorney-General, and therefore not subject to release under FOI.
Maurice Blackburn is representing Mr Patrick in the court hearing, in partnership with Grata Fund.
Quotes attributable to Rex Patrick:
“Governments should not be able to sweep a departing minister’s dirt underneath the carpet. I am asking the Federal Court to correct the Information Commissioner’s interpretation of the law and restore greater transparency to our political system.”
Quotes attributable to Jacinta Lewin, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers:
“This legal challenge is about ensuring that a change of job can’t be used as a basis to deny access to information and undermine the FOI process. Robust FOI laws are integral to a strong democracy. Journalists and ordinary Australians need lasting access to information to hold governments to account for the decisions they make.”
Quotes attributable to Isabelle Reinecke, executive director, Grata Fund:
“This loophole is a major roadblock to a functional FOI system and has created a significant gap in the accountability of government and the public service. Given ministerial reshuffles are increasingly common in contemporary Australian politics, this is an untenable situation for our democracy.”
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