Attorney-General George Brandis could face contempt of court proceedings if he does not provide access to his ministerial diary, his Labor counterpart has warned.
Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued the warning on Monday amid an almost three-year stoush with Senator Brandis over a Freedom of Information request for the contents of his diary.
Mr Dreyfus claimed the Attorney-General was not following a September 2016 order from the Federal Court, which upheld an earlier Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling that the Senator must hand over sections of his diary.
Senator Brandis had initially blocked the request, saying it would be have taken too long as he would have needed to review every item.
Labor’s move comes as rumours swirl over Senator Brandis’ future as Attorney-General, with ongoing speculation he will be soon be moved to another post, such as the high commissioner to London.
Mr Dreyfus’ lawyers have written to the Senator’s legal team to say that, if he did not process the request, he would ask the Federal Court for a hearing in which they would argue he was in contempt of court.
Senator Brandis has until Monday to process the request, Fairfax Media reported.
Mr Dreyfus’ lawyers claim in the letter that they have not seen evidence the request is being processed, the ABC reported.
The standard time to process an FOI request is 30 days, though this is often extended with the requester informed in writing.
The letter said Mr Dreyfus had not been given a reason for any delay.
Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General had wanted to see sections of Senator Brandis’ diary to check who’d he been meeting prior to a budget decision that reduced funding to community legal centres.
A contempt of court finding carries a penalty of jail time or hefty fines.
Mr Dreyfus said in Brisbane on Monday said it was in the public interest that the Attorney-General process his request.
“I’m not asking for the contents of these meetings, not asking for documents associated with the meetings, I want the headlines in his diary, as to who he met with,” he said.
University of Tasmania FOI expert Rick Snell said the Attorney-General, who is the minister responsible for Freedom of Information laws, should be a “standard setter for best FOI practice”.
“He has failed miserably to set those standards,” he told The New Daily.
“The minister has lost both at the AAT and Federal Court.
“The FOI request should have been processed immediately after the AAT hearing let alone after the Federal Court.
“Whilst both hearings were more focused on technical arguments it was clear that the justifications put by the Minister were perceived as weak and probably unsustainable.”
Calls to Senator Brandis’ office went unanswered.
Last month, he told a Senate Estimates hearing that it had been “disgracefully alleged” he was in contempt of court.
When the FOI request had been processed, Mr Dreyfus would receive a response, he told the hearing.