CANBERRA – According to his own diary, there is no evidence George Brandis consulted with anyone working in the community legal sector before funding was slashed in the 2014 budget, as he had claimed.
The sector is still fighting the 30 per cent government funding cuts which are due to take effect from June 30.
After a costly three-year Freedom of Information dispute tussle and ahead of a Labor threat to pursue contempt of court charges, Federal Attorney-General Brandis finally on Friday released 34 pages of appointments from his 2013-14 electronic diary.
The Federal Opposition is claiming a victory for transparency as, surprise! (or not) -- no meetings with the community legal sector were documented.
Oh hello George Brandis' diary. pic.twitter.com/2BAFoReZ7s— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) March 19, 2017
"This has been a monumental waste of everyone's time," Labor's Mark Dreyfus told RN Breakfast on Monday.
"As we expected there is no evidence that George Brandis consulted anybody before he embarked on his cuts to Community Legal Centres, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Centres, and completely cutting the funding to Environmental Defenders Offices.
"What a waste of taxpayers' money, of public servants' time, the court's time, just because apparently of the Attorney-General's personal vanity."
But is it really over?
Nearly three years on, Brandis has capitulated - we have the diary. A victory for commonsense and transparency. https://t.co/sTF6ql2koK— Mark Dreyfus (@markdreyfusQCMP) March 19, 2017
Labor believes it has got what it was expecting all along in lodging an FOI request in 2014 to inspect the 2013-14 electronic diary of Attorney-General George Brandis.
Not so fast, according to Brandis.
The Huffington Post Australia is told the 34 pages provided are not the definitive ministerial diary Labor was truly seeking and nothing about the Attorney-General's movements and meetings can be proved.
"Many meetings or appointments happen spontaneously or at short notice," a spokesman for Brandis said in a statement.
"Quite often, the Attorney-General arranges meetings himself and these are not always entered in the diary.
"The Attorney-General regularly meets with representatives from the legal assistance sector -- for example -- he has made seven visits to legal assistance providers in the last year."
Dreyfus has put it back on Brandis.
"Well it's the record we've got, let the Attorney-General explain -- who did he meet with? And I think you'll find he didn't meet with anybody," the Shadow Attorney-General said.
And the three years? Everyone knows it has been a long time.
"Mr Dreyfus was informed that his request was being processed," the spokesman said. "It was typical overreach of Mr Dreyfus to suggest otherwise.
"Processing Mr Dreyfus' request was a long and exhaustive task and had to be done on top of the Attorney's ministerial and other responsibilities. Appropriate redactions had to be made to the diary before it was released."
Brandis worked harder to hide his diary than he ever has to improve access to justice. Now to stop the 30% cuts to community legal centres. https://t.co/UN1RISntw1— Senator Murray Watt (@MurrayWatt) March 19, 2017
Away from the argument over what is, and what is clearly not in the diaries, the Attorney-General is pressing Dreyfus on releasing HIS diaries, should Labor win office.
The Labor spokesman indicated he would.
"If it's good enough for President Obama to release his appointments diary, if anyone asks me for mine, I'll certainly be doing that," Dreyfus told the ABC.
Hopefully it would not take another three years to see them.
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