Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Answers to Questions on Notice

Question No. 3985

3:03 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Scarr. I think the score is about 14-2, and that includes some state ones. I've been relatively successful in the appeals. But that's the approach I normally take: if I don't like a decision, I appeal it

It wasn't until last week that I stood up in the chamber and said something about a decision-maker in respect of the decision I had received. The difference in this instance is the fact that a bureaucrat thought it in their remit to overturn a judicial officer in favour of the opinion and interests of her political master. That occurred either under an inappropriate direction—because FOI decision-makers make independent decisions—or because the decision-maker was trimming her sails to the political winds, in her own career interest and ahead of her Public Service obligation.

PM&C didn't like what I had to say. The secretary of PM&C, Mr Philip Gaetjens, has written to the President of the Senate, complaining that I sought to hold a public official to account. In that regard, I seek leave to table the letter that was sent to the President in relation to that. I do so in fairness, because there is criticism of me in this letter. I have run this by Senator Smith and the other leaders prior to this.

Leave granted.

Mr Gaetjens didn't like the fact that I suggested his employee 'breached her obligation' or was 'directed to make a decision contrary to law'. He did not like that I spoke of her actions as being incompetent or abhorrent or politicised. Until yesterday, I would have accepted the comment that the official wasn't directed to make the decision and I would have withdrawn my remarks about Ms McKenzie being 'directed to make a decision contrary to law'. But that withdrawal would still have left me backing my other comments: no-one, without being politicised or simply stupid, or both, could make the decision that she did. Moreover, Mr Gaetjens's flexible attitude towards the truth, to serve his own political master, has now been confirmed through another FOI decision that I received last night. That decision was made by another PM&C official, Assistant Secretary Hugh Cameron, who yesterday used what was effectively a pro forma decision-making template to claim exactly the same thing, stating that he is 'of the opinion that national cabinet is a committee of the cabinet and therefore national cabinet documents are exempt from disclosure under section 34 of the FOI Act'. That's two. Two senior officials have now sought to ignore the ruling of a Federal Court judge.

Some might think it's unconventional that I come into this chamber and start naming public officials, but there are conventions being broken inside government that are far more harmful in respect of damage to institutions. Mr Cameron's decision is, to all intents, a carbon copy of Ms McKenzie's. So here we have another bureaucrat in the Prime Minister's department arrogantly asserting that he is more learned than a judge when it comes to the law; here we have another official politicised and disrespectful to the rule of law. Presumably he too will get a pat on the head from Mr Gaetjens. But, in actual fact, it's a case of Tweedledee and, with Mr Cameron, Tweedledumber. And to think that the secretary of PM&C would write to the Senate, to the President, seeking sympathy, when the Senate itself has resolved that it will not accept national cabinet as a public interest immunity relating to cabinet deliberations. Mr Gaetjens' claim of me taking on officials is that I have undermined public confidence in the Australian Public Service. That is laughable coming from the grub of a man that Mr Gaetjens is.


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