Former premier Brian Burke has denied he had a “prearranged conspiracy” with a Government official to access things he shouldn’t.
Mr Burke and former public servant Gary Stokes are on the trial in the Perth Magistrate’s Court on charges of disclosing official secrets relating to the rezoning of land at 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 Girll – and mineral sands miner Bemax over the land’s use.
The allegations relate to a copy of a letter from then Department of Industry and Resources director-general Jim Limerick to then Department of Planning and Infrastructure director-general Greg Martin, which was allegedly emailed to Mr Burke by Mr Stokes.
Giving evidence for a second day, Mr Burke today testified that if he wasn’t entitled to the letter, it should never have been emailed to him.
Mr Burke confirmed that in March 2006, he wrote to both Mr Stokes, who was in China at the time, and a woman at DPI requesting a copy of the letter on behalf of his client.
The DPI emailed him five days later telling Mr Burke they could not provide him with a copy as the matter was an “active file” and if he still wished to obtain a copy of it, he should make a Freedom of Information request – but by this stage, he already had a copy of the letter which had been sent to him four days earlier by Mr Stokes, the court was told.
Mr Burke said at the time of making the request, he did not know the content of the letter but presumed it contained the “general knowledge” and “broadly known information” that the Department had changed its view about mining at Whitby.
Mr Burke defended contacting Mr Stokes for the letter, saying he believed him to be the person at DoIR who was looking after the Whitby project, and denied he had contacted him because he was the key person with whom he would have had the least difficulty accessing the information.
He said if it had been secret, he would not have rung the department to speak to Mr Stokes, wouldn’t have sent an email on the department’s system and wouldn’t have told Urban Pacific project director David Cecchele that the letter had come from Mr Stokes.
He said he had asked for it in an as transparent way as possible.
Mr Burke said “at no time did I think it was important to have the letter” and although he wondered why his client had requested a copy of the letter, he was still “entitled” to ask for it, but he did not have any expectation that he would receive it.
“It wasn’t my responsibility to decide whether or not I should be given it,” he told the court.
Mr Burke disagreed that without Mr Stokes it would have been difficult for him to get the letter directly from the Department.
Mr Stokes sent him a copy of the letter with the words “please treat as confidential” and Mr Burke told the court that he took this to mean that it was ”perfectly entitled” to be given to Urban Pacific but that it wasn’t to be publicly released.
Defence lawyers for both men and prosecutors are expected to start their closing submissions tomorrow.