George Brandis

Lawyers acting for Attorney-General George Brandis’ office are today arguing in the full Federal Court of Australia against having to even think about whether the government should release Brandis’ diary to shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.

Brandis in January decided to spent taxpayers’ money on appealing a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to process a mid-2014 freedom of information request from Dreyfus for Brandis’ diaries. Dreyfus filed the request for Brandis’ diary entries in a weekly agenda format for the period after he was appointed Attorney-General in the then-Abbott government in late 2013 until May 12, 2014.

[Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Brandis seeks court ruling to protect his secrets]

The case is not whether Brandis has to hand over the diary, but just whether his office needs to process the request in the first place. Brandis’ office originally rejected the request because of the time it would take to complete the request, and because they believed it could potentially interfere with Brandis’ ability to do his job, because hundreds of people Brandis had met with over that time period would need to be consulted.

Brandis’ office made the case that there were 2400 entries and it would require a significant amount of consultation with those involved, indicating some might need to be withheld on national security grounds. Dreyfus said at the time that some of those entries could be things like “clean my teeth”, and only a maximum of 270 people would need to be consulted as part of the request.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal in December last year rejected Brandis’ office claim and ordered it to process the request. Brandis appealed, claiming he needed “clarity” on freedom of information law.

According to court documents for the case, Brandis’ argument essentially seeks to claim that the diary is exempt from releasing unless every person is contacted and approval is sought to release the documents. Dreyfus has rejected this in his submission, additionally arguing that Brandis’ chief of staff, Paul O’Sullivan, had  vastly overestimated the number of people required to consult, once political staff and media interviewers were removed.

[Your metadata fair game, but Brandis’ own off limits]

Dreyfus is seeking for the case to be dismissed, but if Brandis wins, that it be sent back to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for further consideration. If Dreyfus is successful, then Brandis’ office will be required to process the request, and potentially release his diary from two years ago to the shadow minister.

At the same time, Brandis’ office is seeking to bring an end to an almost two-year-old case with Crikey over access to Brandis’ metadata. Crikey has agreed not to proceed with an Administrative Appeals Tribunal case on the proviso that more of the original phone bill provided almost two years ago in response to an FOI request is released unredacted. It is understood that while the phone numbers will not be released, information including the length of calls and the location of the calls may be released.

Crikey is also awaiting the outcome of an external review of a decision by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s office to block access to his diary.