Want to read the massive, 545 page departmental briefing document which Malcolm Turnbull received when he was sworn in as Communications Minister several weeks ago? We do too, but we’ll need your help; so we’ve launched a $2,000 Pozible campaign to crowdfund access to it under Freedom of Information laws.
It’s a well-known fact that when new Ministers are sworn in to lead government portfolios, they receive extensive briefings on those portfolios from their departmental bureaucrats. Known as ‘Red Books’ for a returning Government or ‘Blue Books’ for a new Government, the briefing documents contain a wealth of information about the new Minister’s portfolio, commitments, decisions and so on.
Former public servant and now journalist Bernard Keane describes the briefing documents well in this extensive article for Crikey, noting that they will contain information on meeting the Government’s election commitments, urgent decisions that need to be made ASAP, thematic briefings about key issues in the portfolio and so on.
In Turnbull’s case, the Blue Book ministerial briefing is particularly important, because the post of Communications Minister will be a critical one for the Australian Government over the next several years. This is because the Coalition has promised to radically reshape Labor’s National Broadband Network, despite the fact that Labor’s NBN policy has always enjoyed overwhelming popular support amongst the general population.
In addition, there are a number of other key issues in the Communications portfolio which Turnbull will need to deal with, ranging from Internet censorship and filtering, digital rights, media law and so on. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve been reading Delimiter or similar technology media outlets for any length of time.
Because of the pivotal nature of the role, on 25 September Delimiter sought access to the ‘Blue book’ of briefing documents which was provided by the Department of Communications to Turnbull when he was sworn in as Minister. This document, which is 545 pages long (according to the department), consists of everything which the department believes Turnbull will need to know.
Many Freedom of Information requests are returned without fees. However, in this case, because of the complexity and length of the request, the Department of Communications has judged that some 97.55 hours of “decision-making” time, plus some 8 hours of “search and retrieval time” will be needed to judge what portions of the 545 page document can be released publicly.
Unfortunately the Department’s projected Freedom of Information costs are far outside Delimiter’s normal budget for FoI requests; we’re able to fund, and have funded requests in the past, in the low hundreds of dollars, but a request in the thousands would blow a hole in our budget.
Because of this, we’re appealing for your assistance on this one. If you want to know everything that Turnbull does, if you want to see the 545 page Ministerial briefing he was provided with when he came to power, then we encourage you to chip in through the Pozible campaign we launched today for the issue.
As you can see through the campaign page, all we need to source the document is $2070. If we are able to crowdfund this amount, we’ll immediately notify the Department of Communications and pay their fee. All of the money will purely be used for this purpose. After this point, it will likely take the Department several months to work through the FoI process.
Once we get Turnbull’s ‘Blue Book’ document (likely with quite a few redactions) back, we’ll publish the whole document freely publicly on Delimiter. We’ll also conduct extensive analysis on the document and publish that analysis freely on Delimiter. This is an important public interest issue, so we’ll do our best.
Note: The Department of Communications has warned that a preliminary review of the documents identified as part of our Freedom of Information search indicates that, “given the nature of the documents”, a significant proportion of the documents would be exempt from Freedom of Information laws.
However, the release of incoming ministerial briefs under FoI laws is far from unprecedented. After the 2010 Federal Election, for example, the Treasury voluntarily released a significant proportion of the ‘Red book’ incoming government brief provided to the incoming Labor Government.
What do you think? Click here to support this initiative and donate at least the price of a cup of coffee to this effort. We think the public should be able to read what Turnbull’s reading. After all, it was the Australian public who voted him in in the first place ;)
Last week, in a press conference, Turnbull said he would bring a new era of transparency and openness to the National Broadband Network. Shortly after the election, the Liberal MP said the NBN debate was not over, but he was determined to ensure that from that point on, the NBN debate would be “at least fully informed”.
Well, let’s put those claims to the test. In order for the debate to be fully informed, the public needs to know everything Turnbull does. Let’s see just how seriously the new Minister takes that promise ;)
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull