More secrecy from a Leftist government

The facts are poison to Leftism

The Baillieu government says it has found proof the former Labor government politicised and interfered with the Freedom of Information process.

Adviser notes and briefings found in desk drawers in the premier's office reveal that John Brumby blocked the appointment of an FOI officer because he was advised "she has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment". The notes are the second instalment of damaging material apparently overlooked and left behind in desks by former advisers to Mr Brumby.

The first, revealed last week, was an adviser's black notebook that detailed dirt unit activities and referred to the emails of then shadow frontbencher David Davis. The Sunday Age understands more damaging material has been found and will eventually be released.

In a 2008 memo to the premier, an adviser named Alison recommended to Mr Brumby that he block two officers from receiving special powers to process FOI requests to his private office. One of Mr Brumby's key advisers was Alison Crosweller, but it is not certain the memo is from this Alison. The two new officers, from the legal branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, were suggested to the premier for his approval.

But in the memo to the premier, Alison says: "I am very nervous about delegating authority to one of the suggested officers. She has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment. Rather than approve one and not the other, suggest DO NOT APPROVE on the basis the [premier's private office] does not receive many requests and we'd prefer to work with current authorised officers."

Alison then recommends a form of words for Mr Brumby to reject the request for approval. Mr Brumby writes almost an exact copy of these words on the bottom of the brief requesting his approval.

The brief, seen by The Sunday Age, was written by the director of his legal department.

The former opposition and media have long suspected FOI was heavily monitored and influenced by the former government, but this appears to be the first proof of this interference.

The Baillieu government told The Sunday Age the former premier's actions showed he was prepared to disadvantage two public servants because one of them had performed her duties in compliance with the act.

The Minister for Corrections and Crime Prevention, Andrew McIntosh, says the Baillieu government will establish an FOI commissioner, who will be independent from government and political interference.

The commissioner will review FOI requests, develop and enforce professional standards and be an independent officer of the Parliament in the same way as the Ombudsman and Auditor-General, he said. Mr McIntosh said the commissioner would monitor all FOI requests, receive and investigate complaints and could inquire into the decision-making of all government FOI officers.

Opposition spokeswoman EmmaTyner declined to answer specific questions about the 2008 blocking of FOI officers by Mr Brumby. But she said: "Quite clearly, Ted Baillieu thinks it's more useful to spend his time searching through drawers for old documents rather than getting on with the job of fixing the problems, which he promised to do."

The first instalment of revealing information left behind by the former government was a black notebook belonging to Mr Brumby's strategic adviser, Simon Hammersley. It appeared to refer to emails "to and from" Mr Davis and could be the subject of an Ombudsman's inquiry.

The Baillieu government has written to Ombudsman George Brouwer asking him to investigate whether the former government inappropriately accessed the then opposition's emails.


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