Ever heard of Andrew McIntosh? He is the Liberal Party’s spokesman on police and emergency services in Victoria. And he is a lawyer by training. But when it comes to using that inveterate tool of opposition parties — freedom of information laws — McIntosh is still on training wheels it seems. Good news for the Brumby government, at least in the politically sensitive area of law and order, one supposes.
According to a decision of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) delivered by Judge Ian Ross on February 5, part of a request under FOI by McIntosh for information on a government unit called Crime Prevention Victoria was “unintelligible.” And McIntosh’s request for a review after a refusal by government to hand over documents was, said Judge Ross, “misconceived and lacking in substance.”
McIntosh had applied by letter in February 2008 for just about anything to do with Crime Prevention Victoria. He wanted briefing notes, research reports, agendas, board papers — basically everything and the kitchen sink.
Of McIntosh’s request for “Agenda & Minutes of Crime Prevention Victoria”, Judge Ross said it was “unintelligible”.
“The reference to ‘agenda and minutes’ presumably relates to meetings of particular bodies. But CPV was not a single committee or working group. It was a business unit within the Department of Justice. Hence the type of meetings contemplated by the request is not apparent. No doubt the officers of CPV attended a range of meetings,” Judge Ross said.
There was a series of letters and discussions between McIntosh, his representatives and the government after the initial request in February but no final decision on whether or not to grant McIntosh the material he sought had been made when he filed an appeal with VCAT. McIntosh had jumped the gun, said Judge Ross.
“An application for review … may only be made after a decision has been made refusing to grant access to a document. Absent such a decision there is no basis upon which a review application may be made. It follows that the review application before me is misconceived and lacking in substance,” writes Judge Ross.
On February 18 last year one of McIntosh’s colleagues, Richard Dalla-Riva issued a media release complaining about a Brumby government initiative to make changes to FOI laws.
“The Victorian Coalition sees this Bill as an attempt by the Brumby Government to further restrict access through FoI and as introducing additional impediments and delays in the processing of requests by agencies,” Dalla-Riva said.
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If Andrew McIntosh’s misunderstanding of the FOI laws is any indication, then the Liberals and Nationals are doing a pretty good job themselves of restricting access to government through FOI!