Mike Pezzullo is miffed.
A few days ago, this supposedly apolitical head of the Department of Home Affairs took the extraordinary step of ringing Senator Rex Patrick to tell him to watch his words after the Senator issued a press release criticising the media raids.
“The overall trend has been clear for some time with the Government clearly working up a suppression trifecta: routinely obstruction and delaying freedom of Information applications; persecuting whistleblowers such as Witness K and Richard Boyle, and now using the police to intimidate journalists.”
Apparently Mike took exception to the following as he felt his character was being attacked:
“There is no doubt that Coalition Ministers and senior bureaucrats have no love of media scrutiny.”
Gee, now why would anyone think that.
His boss, Peter Dutton, infamously said “Some of the crazy lefties at the ABC, and on The Guardian, Huffington Post, can express concern and draw mean cartoons about me and all the rest of it. They don’t realise how completely dead they are to me.”
How dare they criticise him for wanting to fast-track refuge for persecuted “white” South Africans.
But he’s not alone in trying to avoid criticism and scrutiny.
George Brandis spent over $50,000 on an unsuccessful three-year legal battle to avoid releasing his diary just because he didn’t want anyone to know that he did not consult with anyone working in the community legal sector before their funding was cut in the 2014 budget.
Staff and former staff at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the CSIRO, and the agriculture department were directed not to respond to summonses from the SA Royal Commission and not to hand over documents.
Senator Michaelia Cash and former justice minister Michael Keenan twice refused to provide witness statements to police about media leaks over raids on union offices, initiated by the ROC after receiving a letter from Cash about old donations. Cash’s legal representation in the AWU’s federal court case has cost taxpayers $289,000 while the Registered Organisations Commission has incurred $550,000.
The government settled a class action brought on behalf of 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers detained on Manus island for $70 million rather than proceed with a trial that would have involved evidence before the court from detainees of murder inside the detention centre, systemic sexual and physical abuse, and inadequate medical treatment leading to injury and death.
After a request from Thales Australia, Attorney-General Christian Porter issued a certificate which suppressed a report from the Auditor-General into whether a defence procurement represented value for money. Porter censored the information both on national security and commercial interests grounds.
In its first budget, the Abbott government announced it intended to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, along with the positions of information commissioner and freedom of information commissioner. The Senate withstood that attempt but funding and staff were slashed and the information commissioner worked from home.
“On water” matters, “operational” matters, “national security”, “commercial-in-confidence”, “under investigation”, “report to government not by government”, “limited tender” – the language of secrecy abounds.
While Mr Pezzullo may consider his conduct in handling his department beyond reproach, pretty much every appraisal of it, from the Auditor-General or commissioned independent consultants or staff surveys, has been scathing.
In April this year, a petition signed by public servants expressed no confidence in Mr Pezzullo and his senior leaders and called for an end to years of “waste, mismanagement and chaos” at the Home Affairs Department.
“The secretary, Mr Michael Pezzullo, and his executive must be held responsible for actively driving the intolerable situation that has developed, with constant attacks on staff.”
As the judge in a recent case brought by the Australian Building and Construction Commission against the CFMMEU said:
“I hold the clear view that this is a case where the ABCC should be publicly exposed as having wasted public money without a proper basis for doing so…..there are cases at the extreme where I think it is right for judges to be critical, because if judges are not, then nobody will be….if you want to make a case that the ABCC should not be criticised, well, you know, let’s hear – bring it on”
We need everyone – judges, media, politicians and the public – to stem this tide of avoidance of scrutiny.
I would suggest that, when parliament resumes, Pezzullo better be ready to ‘bring it on’.
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