A curious side effect of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s coup is, Crikey has been told, that all freedom of information requests that were waiting to be answered by the PMO under Tony Abbott will now go unanswered.

One of the not-so-secret secrets of the government’s push to crack down on Australians downloading Game of Thrones and other shows over peer-to-peer services is that the government has been lobbied, non-stop since coming into office to do something.

It didn’t take long, with Attorney-General George Brandis announcing in February last year an intent to introduce a — still not implemented — three-strikes notice scheme, and legislation to get websites like The Pirate Bay blocked. The latter has been passed but, as of yet, no companies have attempted to start a case.

I had already discovered through another FOI request that Brandis, in developing the legislation, only ever met with rights holders, and not internet service providers or consumer groups in developing the legislation, but after that I had heard rumours that rights holders had attempted to visit Abbott so many times that it was a point of frustration for his chief of staff, Peta Credlin.

I had filed a freedom of information request with the Prime Minister’s Office back in February seeking details of any and all meetings or requests for meetings made between rights holders and the prime minister, to determine whether his office, as the rumour goes, had been inundated with meetings and emails from rights holders pushing for the government to crack down on online piracy.

Seven grim months passed without a peep from the PMO, despite numerous attempts to get a response. After the change of leadership last month, I inquired again whether the request could be — finally — answered. Sadly, it seems any evidence I was looking for might be gone forever, with an FOI officer in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet telling Crikey:

“As you would be aware, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP was sworn in as Prime Minister on 15 September 2015, and as your request was made to the former Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, there are a couple of available options to proceed with your FOI:

  • request your application be withdrawn; or
  • request your applicant continues to be processed — noting given the terms of your request it is unlikely Mr Turnbull or his Office would hold documents relevant to your request.”

While it would not be uncommon for a change of party of government to mean that the documents in the Prime Minister’s Office would no longer be available, it is unusual that the change of one Liberal prime minister to another Liberal prime minister would mean no documents were retained.

We are assuming the FOI request was lost in one of the dozens of bags of shredded documents seen leaving the prime minister’s office the morning after the leadership change. We are still proceeding with the request, but this time we’re including Turnbull — and his personal email server — in our request.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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