Australian government blocks Conroy's 2007 Red Book release

After blocking the release of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's incoming ministerial briefing documents, the Department of Communications has also blocked the release of Conroy's incoming ministerial briefing documents from 2007.

The Department of Communications has blocked the release of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's incoming ministerial briefing document, known as the Red Book, from 2007, stating that the contents of the book are still relevant today.

At the calling of the election, every government department prepares a Red Book or a Blue Book for the incoming Labor or Coalition minister, respectively, to provide advice to the minister on issues facing the department and portfolio, and advice on the policies that minister took to the election.

In November last year , the release of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Blue Book was blocked from release under Freedom of Information (FOI). The decision was based on what is believed to be a new precedent set by the government to block the release of almost all incoming departmental briefing documents under FOI because it would limit the ability of public services to offer "frank and comprehensive advice" to the incoming minister.

The release of the document would lead to public servants tailoring incoming briefings into "a more generic bland document" that wouldn't raise difficult questions for the minister on how to enact their promises and party policy, the department argued at the time.

In November, ZDNet filed an FOI request to the Department of Communications, seeking access to Conroy's 2007 Red Book. The document would have contained much of the department's views on Labor's policy for a National Broadband Network (NBN), which at that time was to be a fibre-to-the-node network, the kind of network that the Coalition will now be seeking to build as part of its revised NBN.

In December, the department's assistant secretary for governance Andrew Madsen denied this request, stating that despite the age of the document, many of its parts are still relevant.

"Notwithstanding the age of the 2007 Red Book, it deals with many issues that remain of contemporary importance," he said.

Madsen referred to a decision on 2010 incoming briefing documents from the Information Commissioner that noted that Treasury officials had sought to keep those documents confidential not for the contents of the documents, but rather to keep the documents confidential like Cabinet records.

Madsen stated that the entire 2007 Red Book was exempt from release on the grounds that the disclosure of the document could "have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient conduct or operations of an agency".

"I consider the contemporary nature of the matters dealt with in the briefs means that the effect of their release would not be materially different to the effect of the release of the recently produced incoming government brief," he added.


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