The Commonwealth Ombudsman has
promptly turned around our complaint about being locked out of the
Federal budget lock-up and confirmed that the decision was indeed taken
by the treasurer’s office. Here’s the text of the letter, complete with
Sir Humphrey phraseology and plenty of buck-passing:

I refer to your complaint concerning the Federal
Department of Treasury to deny your media outlet, Crikey.com.au, access
to the 2005 Federal Budget lock-up for journalists.

I met with a
number of officials from the Department of Treasury (the Department) in
relation to your complaint and viewed a number of documents from their
files to help me form a view as to whether the preliminary enquiries I
was making could be progressed to a formal investigation.

I
understand that the lock up is from 1.30pm to 7.30pm on 10/5/05 and
that as many as 500 people from perhaps 50 to 60 various large or
mainstream media outlets are likely to be involved. I also understand
that members of the media seeking access must lodge certain details
with the Liaison Unit, Treasury, by 29/4/05. I believe that so far
about 5 or 6 media outlets have been denied access. I also understand
that being an accredited member of the Parliamentary press gallery is
no guarantee of admission to the lock-up.

I understand that part
of your justification for wanting access was that you were allegedly
allowed access last year but the Department refutes that and is sure
that last year there was no record of your organisation being admitted.

I
satisfied myself that the decision for admission was made by the
Minister’s office and not by the Department of Treasury. I was careful
to ensure that any information provided to the Minister and any action
taken by the Department did not constitute administrative failure or
contain any administrative errors and was so satisfied. I was further
satisfied that your email request for inclusion was forwarded to the
Ministers’ office by the Department. It was forwarded with a
recommendation that, because your organisation was not considered to be
part of the ‘mainstream media’, your request should be denied. It was
clear that the decision was made by the Minister’s office. I understand
that you spoke with Mr Ray Gavin, Manager, Liaison Treasury, after the
decision was made and he referred you to David Alexander, Media Adviser
to the Treasurer.

Section 5(2)(a) of the Ombudsman Act 1976,
specifically prevents the Ombudsman from investigating action taken by
a Minister. In this situation, I am satisfied that the Treasurer has
control over who is included or excluded from the lock-up and is the
person who makes the ultimate decision. As the Act specifically
precludes me from investigating such actions, I have decided that I do
not have jurisdiction to undertake an investigation. In the
circumstances, given that I have not been able to find any error in the
actions of the Department in referring your request to the Minister’s
office, I am not able to take any further action.

I do however
appreciate you approaching the Ombudsman’s office for assistance and
thank you for the opportunity to undertake those preliminary enquiries.

RI Brent
Deputy Ombudsman

CRIKEY: Cossie and his minions keep clinging to this line about Crikey
not attending last year, as if precedent is somehow important in a
matter like this. We’ve now told both the Treasury and Costello’s
office that it must have been the 2003 budget where accreditation was
granted, but I failed to show after Virgin Blue did a Jetstar
impersonation.

This
obviously means that I didn’t apply last year. However, the last time
Crikey requested accreditation in 2003 it was granted without any
problem. Similarly, when accreditation was requested to attend the
big-spending Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane last November it
was also granted without a hitch.

When a request was made to
Phillip Ruddock’s office to attend a briefing by the Attorney General
on proposed defamation law reform last year it was also granted no
problems. Similarly, in the past 18 months we’ve taken office space in
the Parliamentary Press Gallery and two of our reporters have been
accredited. That makes a run of five successful requests to participate
in our democracy by attending Federal Government events.

So
what’s changed? The only thing we can think of is that Costello doesn’t
like our criticism of his performance. That is no way for a future
prime minister to act.

Poor Petey really is a fair weather
friend. There were times when his staff used to ring the Crikey bunker
and say “where’s the sealed section, the treasurer wants to read it”.
Last week Cossie removed himself from our list of 14,000 “squatters”,
which includes former subscribers like him. The lad really does seem to
have a bee in his bonnet.

If he can’t hack Crikey criticism, it would be interesting to know what Cossie said this morning after Fin Review
Chanticleer columnist John Durie completely demolished him as someone
who “mistakenly thinks he has earned the right to the top job”.

Thanks for the support, John. What’s Cossie going to do? Ban the Fin Review as well.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW