Following the news yesterday that Brandis had appealed an Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling that his office would have to process a freedom of information request for his diary for his first eight months in office, a tipster told us to check back on what Brandis had been saying in opposition about transparency. As the tipster wrote: “Hansard has it all … And it is very different from what he is saying now.”

Quite right.

Brandis in 2013, on Labor’s failure to make FOI more expansive in government:

Operation Sunlight, you might recall, was the much vaunted policy that the Labor Party took to the 2007 election that was designed to promote transparency in the field of both whistleblower protection and freedom of information laws. It has produced this result: information is more restricted today than it was then and whistleblower protection has been delayed through the life of two entire parliaments.”

Brandis in 2012 on the Coalition agreeing to exempt the Parliamentary Budget Office from FOI:

“We in the opposition of course take a more expansive view of freedom-of-information laws than the government; nevertheless, we are persuaded that, in certain circumstances, the protection of confidentiality in a process such as this is a more important policy consideration than freedom of information.”

Brandis in 2010 when the Rudd government greatly expanded the FOI Act and introduced the Australian Information Commisioner that Brandis is now trying to shut down:

“Freedom of information laws operate on the assumption that, unless cause is shown by government why information ought to be withheld from a citizen, the information should be available to the citizen.”

And again:

“The Coalition’s commitment to open, responsible government is well known….[the Freedom of Information Act] is a vital measure to ensure that government remains open, responsible and accountable for its decisions.”

It is worth noting that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was handed another three-month lifeline yesterday as the government still struggles to get legislation through the Senate that would shut the office down. An interesting point from the passage of the 2010 amendments to the FOI Act is that it was Brandis who forced the government to reverse the onus of proof when someone challenges a refused FOI request in the AAT from the person seeking the documents to the government. That certainly backfired on him.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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