Former attorney-general George Brandis' three-year fight to keep his ministerial diary secret cost taxpayers just over $168,000, it has been revealed.
The amount was disclosed, finally, nine months after Labor sought information on the total cost of the case. The response was posted just in the last week, months after other answers to questions on notice from May 2017's Estimates hearings were published by the attorney-general's department and just a matter of weeks after Brandis resigned from the Senate to take up the role of the next high commissioner in London.
To recap, in the Abbott government's first budget, there were millions of dollars cut from legal aid funding and the arts sector, both in Brandis' portfolio.
Labor's shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, filed a freedom of information request for Brandis' Outlook calendar for the period of September 2013, until May 2014 to see if Brandis had met with those two sectors prior to the cuts being announced.
But Brandis – then the minister responsible for freedom of information law in Australia – fought to keep his diary a secret every step of the way.
Brandis refused to release it to Labor, and subsequently lost several appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Court, and then the full bench of the Federal Court in September 2016.
It wasn't then until almost one year ago in March 2017 that Brandis' office finally released the diary and it revealed... not a lot. Except it did show that Brandis had not met with groups affected by the budget cuts.
The attorney-general's department confirmed in the response published in the last week that the cost for the AAT case for the government was $38,224.73 in total, made up of solicitor fees, disbursements, and GST.
The cost for the full federal court case was $65,575.55, including solicitor fees, and counsel fees.
Brandis and Dreyfus also reached an agreement on settlement for costs to be paid to Dreyfus for $65,000, putting the total cost to the government at $168,800.28 for the three-year legal battle.
Dreyfus told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the diary should have been provided to the public for free.
"Former senator Brandis should have provided his diary at no cost to the taxpayer on day one, but instead spent three years fighting the release, losing comprehensively at every stage, and all at taxpayers’ expense,” he said.
"It is an embarrassment to Mr Brandis and the Turnbull government that they have spent $165,000 of taxpayer dollars to try to avoid meeting a basic standard of transparency.
Dreyfus said Brandis' legacy would be showing contempt for transparency and his responsibilities as the minister responsible for FOI.
In his final speech to the Senate earlier this month, Brandis said he was concerned about the attacks on the rule of law itself from his political colleagues, viewed as a thinly-veiled swipe at home affairs minister Peter Dutton.
Dutton responded by suggesting Brandis always thought the attorney-general was the smartest person in the room.
Since the FOI ruling in 2016, communications minister Mitch Fifield has also released his diary in response to a similar FOI request.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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