Turnbull’s Blue Book: Help us crowdfund the new Minister’s briefing


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.

You can read the Department of Communications’ letter in response to the FoI request in PDF format here.

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


  1. Will this be Delimiter, or will content end up on D2? No point in funding something that I won’t be able to read.

  2. Wow, 10 percent complete already. I went the $15 option so I can get a copy of the report.

  3. Chuckles at the time allowance – to two decimal places.
    So that’s 8hrs,1.1 secs for Retrieval and 97hrs, 33 mins for Decisions.
    If they are are that concise it must be accurate!

  4. Done, it’s not something I normally do but this is too important for our nations future.

  5. Renai

    Good luck with the FOI request. My pledge sent and looking forward to seeing the results



  6. It might be nice to use http://www.righttoknow.org.au to track the FOI request so others can view the progress and help out where needed. It also means that once the documents have been liberated they will free (in the ‘freedom’ of FOI sense) for people to look at.

    • hey Jerry,

      I don’t usually use Right to Know because I don’t always want the full content of my communications with government departments to be made public ;) This is pretty normal for journalists.

      As far as the FOI requests being made public, you should be aware that government departments are legally obligated to publish all FOI requests eventually through their public-facing FOI log anyway — there is no way to keep FOI’d documents private ;) And of course in this case, I will be releasing the full documents through Delimiter anyway (as is my standard practice with FOI material).



  7. Great stuff Renai, good luck with the funding!
    Hey why are you packing a suitcase with snorkeling gear?!? :) Just joking.

  8. I’m in! I do worry that all the good bits will be redacted though, and that I just bought $15 worth of black lines :)

    • Oh so true, I’ve seen some full pages with about 10 words on it :(
      Freedom of information uhuh!

    • Cheers, much appreciated!

      Often we do get FOI docs back with significant parts redacted. However, I would find it very hard to believe that they could redact too of this, given that it’s 545 pages long. That would be a farce.

      • Another $15 pledged to help the FTTP cause.

        I would expect them to redact any commercially sensitive documentation, which unfortunately would also be the juiciest parts.

  9. Done.

    Looking good $1367. Not much left to go.

    This should help keeping MT honest.

  10. Anyone else expecting 545 pages of blacked out lines? Insist on a hard copy as well, Renai — we can burn through some printer toner at least.

  11. Renai LeMay I thought 2k was just chump change, funny you said that paying 5k for FTTP was chump change lol, I will still add to the kitty though.

  12. Good news everyone, the project has been fully funded! That was quick! I’ll now set about confirming with the Department of Communications etc.

  13. It is a bit irritating that we need to pony up $2000 for a dumbed down version of a brief that was already paid for by tax payers.

    I guess that is how “transparency” works.

    Thanks for pursuing this Renai. Your coverage has been great!

    • 90 hours of reviewing and deciding what needs to be redacted.

      Transparent Government in Action.

  14. I do expect you to send an invoice to Turnbull, and try to get our monies refunded – after all he believes in transparency does he not?

  15. I funded even though it looks like it reached its goal. Hopfully Delimiter can take leftovers as a gift for all the quality reading they have given me over these years.

  16. Wow, I read about this on News.com.au before I got my factual news from Delimiter. I don’t know how I feel about this, but I can only assume the mases of news hungry readers will start to pour into your site, so congratz on all fronts.

  17. I can see it now…

    The official report says: “The FTNN is a terrible idea, while the FTTP is a great idea. Malcolm Turnbull has a great deal to answer for and demonstrates no knowledge about or care of the industry or about the wishes of Australians. He claims he has a mandate where he clearly doesn’t.”

    The redacted version says “The FTNN ____ ___ ____ _____ is a great idea. Malcolm Turnbull has a great ____ _____ ______ knowledge ___ of the industry. He _____ __ has a mandate. “

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