When Scott Morrison was given a red carpet treatment during a visit to RAAF Air Base last year, it was met with disbelief – including Former defense personnel and prime ministers Who said they had never been given the same treatment.
Emails from Defense Department staff now reveal that the Freedom of Information request to seek more information about the visit was considered so sensitive that Defense staff chose to consult with the Prime Minister’s Office, even if it was not necessary.
The correspondence reveals that a staff member of the PMO tried to block the release of all but one document prepared for release by claiming they were “out of claim”, a classification denied by the defense.
Additional defense emails received through FOI requests in handling previous FOI requests show how unusual actions were taken by employees when handling requests.
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FOI requests regarding Morrison’s visit were considered “media / sensitive”, a different classification than normal requests. According to internal defense documents, staff should alert ministers and senior staff as well as prepare points to talk about when dealing with media / sensitive requests.
The request was considered so sensitive that “DCAF [Deputy Chief of Air Force Stephen Meredith] Labor spokesman Brendan O’Connor wants to sign off on the FOI request sent by a staff member “, according to internal communication messages between the two employees.
There was also confusion over how the requests were addressed. Although six documents were initially marked internally as relevant, an FOI was emailed to the applicant on July 2. Public comment made by RAAF chief Mel Hupfeld The request for a hearing on the airbase is presumed to have been answered during the speculation.
“As such, Defense now fully accepts this request,” said Joe Groves, assistant director of information, media freedom and sensitive.
Three days later, the staff discussed how badly they accepted the decision.
“They’re not happy,” a staff member told the internal chat service. Another replied: “Neither like us[,] Literally all document packs were created: X “
A ‘courtesy consultation’
On June 30, Department of Defense FOI staff member Lauren Seman sent an email with the topic “Etiquette Consulting PM&C and Defense.” The email requests “comments regarding the proposed release, or reasons for non-disclosure.”
Although there are some reasons to consult with third parties as part of an FOI request, the repeated use of “courtesy consultation” throughout the correspondence suggests that these steps were not part of the required process.
Initially, a July 5 email from FOI staff from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Council of Ministers’ Ministerial Assistance Division stated that they had no concerns with the documents recommended for their release.
However, two and a half weeks later, an email from the Prime Minister’s Office raised the issue, saying the documents were about to be released.
“The PMO only accepts attached emails [REDACTED] The PMO, dated May 6, 2021, is within range. All other emails and WhatsApp [sic] Messages provided with your original advice are beyond the scope of the request, “the email read.
Two days later, Defense FOI Case Manager Catherine Burke sent an e-mail pushing back against the request: “There have been some discussions. […] RAAF does not agree with the scope of an email (3 pages) as the only document and our final pack is 24 pages.
While the defense released documents against the PMO’s recommendations, those documents provide rare insights into the process of responding to FOI requests in high-profile cases. They show how Morrison’s staff sought to influence public opinion by limiting the amount of information released to the prime minister on highly publicized and controversial topics.