Ombudsman takes action over FOI applications
Monday, 6 February 2006
The State Ombudsman has intervened and taken action to stop the Rann Government from refusing to consider a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) applications until after the coming election, Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said today.
“In December last year the Rann Government and its officers tried to delay responding to 30 FOI applications from the Liberal Party until after the state election on March 18,” Mr Lucas said.
These applications had all been lodged in November last year.
“However, Ombudsman Eugene Biganovsky has now taken action and, for example, has told a senior Rann Government Minister Jane Lomax-Smith that she cannot delay responding to an application relating to her travel, accommodation and entertainment expenses until after the election.”
In a letter to Minister Lomax-Smith on 12 January, the Ombudsman stated:
“I am not satisfied that the period of time, as originally extended (to 23 March 2006) or as amended during the external review (to 27 February 2006) was reasonable having regard to the circumstances.
Accordingly, pursuant to section 39(11) of the Act, I vary the agency’s determination by amending the date by which the application must be dealt with until 13 February 2006.”
“In 2004 when a media outlet published the credit card details of all Ministers’ expenses, Minister Lomax-Smith’s details were not published because she stated she did not use a credit card,” Mr Lucas said.
“However, Government sources advised the Opposition at the time that Minister Lomax-Smith instead had presented accounts to the Department and had then been reimbursed for these costs.
“Only the Minister at this stage knows why she went to such lengths to try and stop details of her expenses being revealed to taxpayers prior to the election.
“Action taken by the Ombudsman has also resulted in the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) starting to answer some of the FOI requests relating to Government expenditure and minutes of meetings of bodies such as the Export Council.
“Prior to the Ombudsman’s intervention, DTED had tried to delay consideration of all 30 applications until after the election.
“The Ombudsman’s correspondence with Minister Lomax-Smith is a source of major embarrassment to Mr Rann.
“On 31 December 2005, when Mr Rann was forced to defend the Government’s position, he denied Government involvement and said it was illegal for the Government to be involved in the FOI process.”
“What’s been said is that somehow the Government has interfered in that – that would be illegal to do.”
Mike Rann, ABC TV News, 31 December 2005
“The Ombudsman’s letter makes it clear that Minister Lomax-Smith had taken the decision to try to delay responding until after the election, contrary to Mr Rann’s claim,” Mr Lucas said.
“It is clear Mr Rann’s statement was untrue and he has now been caught out.”