The Weatherill Labor Government has been embarrassed by a State Ombudsman decision demanding details of payments to a senior adviser be released.
The Liberal Party submitted a Freedom of Information application in November last year relating to any taxpayer-funded payout of leave and other entitlements for Premier Weatherill’s Senior Adviser (and former Chief of Staff to Labor Ministers Kevin Foley and Michael Wright) John Bistrovic.
Mr Bistrovic briefly worked as Chief of Staff to Gillard Government Minister Kate Ellis from May to November last year.
The application was refused on first application, and on internal appeal it was further refused as Mr Bistrovic argued he did not want the information made public as he claimed it related to his personal affairs.
However, the Ombudsman recently ruled it was in the public interest for this information to be released and he forced the Government to release the details.
In his decision, the Ombudsman said:
“In assessing whether disclosure of this information would be unreasonable, Ms Chapman’s (the FOI Officer) argument that ‘it is unreasonable disclosure of (Mr Bistrovic’s) personal affairs to release the documents to a third party is insufficient.
The remuneration details in the documents concern payments made to Mr Bistrovic as a public officer, from the public purse. While Mr Bistrovic objects to disclosure of information recorded on these payments, there is a public interest in favour of disclosure which centres on the net accountability expenditure of public monies.
This outweighs Mr Bistrovic’s objections, and any privacy (if any) which may attach to the details. In my view it would not be unreasonable to disclose the information.”
Mr Bistrovic received $33,000 as he was paid out accumulated recreation leave he had not taken at the very highest salary level, which was the $130,000 per year he was being paid as Chief of Staff to Minister Foley.
Mr Lucas said this decision was very important and should end the long-running practice of the Labor Government claiming confidentiality in relation to not just ministerial advisers and their payouts, but also to public servants, and called for information from similar requests to now be released.
“This important decision demands greater openness, transparency and accountability in the future from a Government that is the most secretive in South Australian history,” Mr Lucas said.
“No longer will the Labor Government be able to hide this kind of information that is clearly in the public interest on the grounds it is paid for by the taxpayer.
“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.”