Update, 5pm: Former premier Brian Burke has told a Perth court he believed that he was allowed to provide a business client with a copy of a letter sent to him by a State Government official and marked as “confidential” but it was not to go any further.
Mr Burke and former public servant Gary Stokes are on trial in the Perth Magistrate’s Court fighting charges of disclosing official secrets relating to the rezoning of land in Whitby, south-east of Perth.
The rezoning involved a conflict between the land’s owner, Urban Pacific – a client of Mr Burke and his business partner Julian Grill – and mineral sands miner Bemax over the land’s use.
Mr Burke testified today he had emailed Mr Stokes, who he believed was the person in charge of Whitby, in March 2006 asking if it was “at all possible” to obtain a copy of a response from the then Department of Industry and Resources to the then Department of Planning about Whitby, to which Mr Stokes said he would see what he could do.
The following day, Mr Stokes sent Mr Burke the letter – from DOIR director-general Jim Limerick to DPI director-general Greg Martin - with the words “please treat as confidential”.
Giving evidence in their defence, both men told the court that Urban Pacific was entitled to receive the information as an interested party and the confidentiality requirement meant only that it was not to be shared outside the company or with third parties.
Mr Burke admitted he told Urban Pacific project director David Cecchele “it’s worth my life if it gets out” and “you must protect me on it, otherwise my source will get sacked”. But the former premier said he only told Mr Cecchele this to impress upon him the importance of the information being kept confidential.
Mr Burke said he was entitled to ask for the information on behalf of Urban Pacific and did not see the harm in asking for it, saying he did not have any expectation his request would be granted and had it been declined, he “would have moved on”.
“It wasn’t my job to decide whether the letter should be released,” he told the court.
Describing himself as the “go-to” man for major projects, Mr Stokes claimed he was in a position to authorise the release of the letter. He said there was nothing in the letter which indicated to him to being any issue of confidentiality and he was simply keeping the proponent informed of any issues which may affect them, as required by the department’s code of conduct.
When Prosecutor Bruno Fiannaca put it to Mr Stokes that he did not ask his department to send the letter directly to Mr Burke because he did not want them to know, he replied: “that’s rubbish”.
He said it was his “normal method of operation” to do such things himself.
Mr Stokes said it was well known that Government emails were logged and kept on the public record and said if he “had anything to hide, I wouldn’t go down this path” of emailing the letter to Mr Burke.
The author of the letter, Dr Limerick, previously testified that he had not authorised the release of the communication and it had the potential to give Urban Pacific an advantage by hinting that the department might lift its opposition to the land rezoning.The trial continues tomorrow.
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