In February, when the Snowy National Park was illegally logged during the bush fires, we immediately put in a Freedom Of Information request for all relevant documents, to determine how this could have happened.
We asked for:
- a.. Incident Management Log,
- b.. Any assessments done of Park values and significant trees, before clearing
- c.. Maps, log volumes and where logs went,
- d.. Daily incident plans,
- e.. Written orders that were given from head office, and so on.
For five months we were exhaustively mucked around by the DSE FOI officer, requesting minor clarifications, creating problems with names and finally a request for $110 search fee for locating the documents (which should all have been on the desk of the DSE official who was investigating the looting).
Not in public interest
We were told this information was not in the public interest so fees would not be waived. We reluctantly paid a deposit and asked they be forwarded without any more delay. But playing cute again – she found a new rule that said she could make us wait another 45 days from the receipt of the cheque. Day 50 went by and still no documents or letter to explain why the hold up. So the Ombudsman was notified.
Playing us on a line for 154 days
On day 60 since receipt of our cheque, and 154 days since the first letter requesting information, we were told we couldn’t have a thing as it might prejudice the outcome of their investigation! So why weren’t we told that on day one? Delay tactics or large search fees didn’t deter us so a sudden about face on agreeing to make this information public was used. On top of that she said she would keep our money (against the FOI Act) but generously not charge us the balance! The Minister saw the outrage of this and directed her to refund our money. But we’re still waiting. Our cheque was paid for by donations from our members, so we take this snatching of EEG funds pretty seriously.
Where’s the investigation at? The Minister’s office continues to promise us that this act of audacious vandalism will be acted upon. And that there will be an outcome.
We are appealing the refusal of documents and will take it to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a formal hearing outside the Department.
More news in the Summer Potoroo.