West wins documents battle

The Barnett Government’s Supreme Court bid to suppress the release of pre-election documents relating to the MAX light rail and airport line has failed.

Chief Justice Wayne Martin this week dismissed an appeal by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and upheld a cross appeal byThe West Australian ’s publisher West Australian Newspapers Ltd, ensuring the release of 59 documents within seven days.

In April 2013The West Australian applied under freedom of information for correspondence to and from Premier Colin Barnett and his staff relating to the election-defining rail projects.

Documents can be exempted from release by ministers if they do not relate to the affairs of another government agency and DPC denied access on the basis the documents created during the caretaker period merely referred to government projects and were not related to the affairs of departments such as Transport and Treasury.

On May 18, Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel overturned DPC’s decision, but the Government appealed his ruling to the Supreme Court.

This week, WAN Ltd argued that the original FOI application had been to a department — DPC — not the Premier, therefore the question of whether the documents related to the affairs of nother agency was irrelevant.

DPC dropped the argument it had been running for two years — that the documents were not “of an agency” — and agreed to new orders dismissing its own appeal and setting aside Mr Bluemmel’s ruling.

Mr Barnett last week predicted political campaigns would fundamentally change if ministerial communications in caretaker mode were subject to FOI.

A spokeswoman for DPC said the Supreme Court did not make any finding the argument it had been running and Mr Bluemmel’s ruling had been set aside.

Counsel forThe West Australian , Tony McCarthy, said under the FOI Act “documents in the possession or control of a government department were accessible whether or not they were created during the caretaker period of Government”.

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