The Department of Health has said it can no longer access former health minister Sussan Ley’s diary since her resignation.

When Ley stood aside last week pending an investigation into her expenses, she told reporters that she would be making her diary available as part of PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson’s investigation into her expenses claims, in particular around her trips to the Gold Coast, where she bought an investment property as an impulse buy. She refused to release her diary to the media because she said journalists would go on “fishing expeditions”.

The statement, like a red rag to a bull, prompted Crikey to file a freedom of information request with the Department of Health to Ley’s office — there is no direct way to send FOI requests to ministers — asking for Ley’s diary over the pertinent two months. 

But yesterday afternoon, after Malcolm Turnbull announced Greg Hunt would replace Ley as minister for health and sport, the department said it was unlikely the documents still existed:

“It is unlikely that documents such as those to which you have sought access will be in the possession of the new Minister and as such you may wish to consider withdrawing your request.  I can confirm that the Department of Health does not have possession of any of the documents to which you have sought access.  You may wish to consider submitting a new request to an alternate agency.”

Other agencies have made similar claims over diaries of former ministers once they step down, including Trade with Andrew Robb, and PM&C when Turnbull replaced Abbott. The failure to retain the diaries of former ministers could potentially be in breach of the Commonwealth Archives Act.

The Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet might have a copy of Ley’s diary as part of its investigation, but Turnbull told journalists he had no intention of releasing any findings from the investigation that resulted in Ley resigning from the cabinet.

“The advice that I’ve received from the Secretary of my Department is advice to me and the Governance Committee of Cabinet. The practice has not been to release advice of that kind.”

Peter Fray

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