The Federal Opposition argues there is still no evidence Attorney-General George Brandis met with the community legal sector ahead of sweeping budget cuts, after its three-year Freedom of Information dispute with the senator.
In 2014, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus lodged an FOI request to inspect Senator Brandis’ electronic diary from September 2013 to May 2014.
Mr Dreyfus wanted to see whether the Attorney-General had consulted the people working in legal assistance services before they were hit by funding cuts in the 2014 budget.
Late on Friday the senator’s office provided the documents, less than a week after Mr Dreyfus had threatened to push for contempt of court proceedings against the Attorney-General.
“After three years and the waste of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money, Senator Brandis has finally seen sense,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“There is, however, no evidence that Senator Brandis met with representatives of legal assistance services before slashing their funding — the purpose of the original request.”
A spokesman for Senator Brandis told the ABC Mr Dreyfus had been warned some meetings were scheduled at short notice and would not have appeared in the diary.
“Processing Mr Dreyfus’s 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,” the spokesman said.
“Many meetings or appointments happen spontaneously or at short notice.
“Quite often, the Attorney-General arranges meetings himself and these are not always entered in the diary.”
The diary printouts show various appointments for the Attorney-General, ranging from flight bookings to ministerial meetings and national security briefings.
At the time Senator Brandis was also minister for the arts, and his diary shows him attending performances of the ballet and opera.
The format of the printouts also makes it difficult to read any detail of some appointments.
The Attorney-General’s office initially blocked the FOI request from Labor, arguing the senator would have to be personally involved in vetting each and every entry before it was released — a burden and distraction from his ministerial duties.
Mr Dreyfus appealed that to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which ruled in his favour, before Senator Brandis unsuccessfully appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court.
“This entire episode was deeply unnecessary,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“I should not have had to take the Attorney-General to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and then fought him in the Full Court of the Federal Court, for this.
“This is a victory for common sense and transparency, and further proof of Senator Brandis’ deep unsuitability for the role of Attorney-General.”
Senator Brandis maintained the Coalition was fully committed to supporting the legal assistance sector.
“Even in a resource-constrained environment, the Australian Government is providing over $1.6 billion for legal aid, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance between 2015 and 2020,” a spokesman said in a statement to the ABC.
“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.”