Dec 28, 2016

Lines of accountability a state secret

Obsessive Government secrecy has reached bizarre new levels with the Turnbull Government refusing to provide the Opposition with information about which of its several infrastructure Ministers has actual responsibility for infrastructure.

The Turnbull Government has at least six Ministers with infrastructure responsibility, including Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester, Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher, Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash; Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Assistant Minister for Cities, Angus Taylor.

But the lines of responsibility are unclear, with officials at a recent Senate Estimates Committee hearing struggling to offer coherent and consistent explanations about who was responsible for particular programs and projects.

Despite this, the Government has rejected an application from the Opposition for charter letters from Mr Turnbull to his Ministers explaining who does what in this critical policy area.

The Opposition’s application under Freedom of Information laws was rejected on the basis that the material might reveal information before Cabinet.

This is an extraordinary response which I will seek to have reviewed by the Information Commissioner.

The responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown should not be a state secret.

Australians deserve to know who is accountable for Government decisions.

And the Opposition has a right to know to which minister it should direct reasonable questions about infrastructure, particularly given the Government underspent its own infrastructure budget by more than 35 per cent in 2015-16 and has been serially misleading Australians about the size of its investment program.