Scott Morrison’s office has refused to release a list of guests he wanted to invite to dinner with Donald Trump, on the basis it would hurt Australia’s relationship with the US.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly stonewalled questions over whether he wanted the White House to invite Hillsong founder Brian Houston to the state dinner in September.
The Wall Street Journal reported Mr Morrison asked for the controversial pastor to be part of the official delegation, but was rejected by the White House.
Mr Morrison has previously described Mr Houston – one of the world’s most powerful pastors – as a “mentor”. Mr Houston and his wife Bobbie founded the Hillsong empire, which has a congregation of 100,000.
But the pastor also remains under police investigation for failing to report his father’s Frank’s sexual abuse of children. Brian Houston was censured by the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse for failing to report the allegations against his father, who died in 2004.
Now the PM’s office has refused to release – or even confirm the existence of – documents relating to the White House dinner guest list under Freedom of Information.
AAP asked for advice and correspondence relating to Mr Morrison’s proposal of potential guests for the dinner in Washington DC on September 20.
In a letter to AAP, senior adviser John Harris knocked back the request under a section of FOI law that prevents the release of documents that “would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to … the international relations of the Commonwealth”.
The US relationship is regarded as one of the closest and strongest of Australia’s international ties.
Mr Harris also cites an exemption for documents that would divulge information communicated in confidence by a foreign government.
“I neither confirm nor deny the existence of a document within the scope of your FOI request,” the letter states.
In October, senior officials from the PM’s department also blocked questions about the US dinner during Senate estimates hearings, saying any matters relating to the compilation of a guest list might affect international relations.
Mr Houston has said he has no idea whether Mr Morrison sought an invitation on his behalf.
The Prime Minister has refused to comment on the reports, repeatedly dismissing them as gossip.
Media organisations, including AAP, are seeking a properly functioning Freedom of Information regime as part of the Your Right To Know campaign.