Voters will never be told the taxpayer cost of the Scott Morrison’s private holidays to Fiji and Hawaii, including flying AFP officers overseas to guard his family, after a freedom of information request was dismissed on the grounds it was not in the public interest and could harm international relations.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has exempted all documents relating to the controversial trip that Mr Morrison took to Hawaii as bushfires raged across Australia, effectively slapping a suppression order on the taxpayer cost.
While the Prime Minister paid for the flights privately, there was a taxpayer cost incurred in flying security guards overseas for the family trip, a highly unusual act by a national leader.
John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and Tony Abbott generally holidayed at home so they could return to work quickly in the event of a national disaster.
The New Daily had sought any emails from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet relating to the Prime Minister’s personal travel to Fiji in June for a family holiday and to Hawaii in December.
A table outlining the taxpayer costs associated with the Prime Minister’s
personal travel to Fiji and Hawaii was also sought to break down the cost of travelling with AFP officers overseas.
In response, the Department said no such table or breakdown was found but confirmed it had found two other relevant documents.
But it has refused access on the grounds those documents contain information that is exempt under the Freedom of Information Act because it relates to the security of the Commonwealth, international relations of the
Commonwealth), or contained personal information.
“I am satisfied that disclosure of material contained within Documents 1 and 2 would, or could be reasonably expected to, cause damage to Australia’s security if it were disclosed,” the response from First Assistant Secretary in the Ministerial Support Division, Brendan MacDowell, states.
“The FOI Guidelines state that: ‘Damage for the purposes of this exemption is not confined to loss or damage in monetary terms. The relevant damage may be intangible, such as inhibiting future negotiations between the Australian Government and a foreign government, or the future flow of confidential information from a foreign government or agency.”
The FOI Guidelines also state that: ‘international relations ‘ has been interpreted as meaning the ability of the Australian Government to maintain good working relations with other governments and international organisations and to protect the flow of confidential information between them…
“I am satisfied that breaching that expectation of confidentiality would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to Australia’s international relations. Consequently, I have formed the view that Documents 1 and 2 are exempt.”
In determining whether disclosure would be contrary to the public interest, the FOI Act requires a decision-maker to balance the public interest factors in favour of disclosure against the factors against disclosure.
“After careful consideration of all relevant factors, I have decided that, on balance, the factors against disclosure outweigh those favouring disclosure,” the response states.
“Accordingly, I am of the view that disclosure of the conditionally exempt information in the requested documents would be contrary to the public interest.”
The refusal came as Labor leader Anthony Albanese lashed the Prime Minister’s secrecy and conduct during the bushfire crisis, including turning his back on a woman in Cobargo who had lost her family home
“We were not critical of his trip to Hawaii but people were deeply critical of his claim that people wanted to be fighting fires,” Mr Albanse said.
“I’ve never seen anything like the behaviour of Morrison. He forced a woman to shake his hand and then turned his back on her.
“Morrison later claimed it was a conversation. His problem is that there were cameras.”