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Brandis wants diary kept secret: Dreyfus

AAP logoAAP 11/08/2016

The Attorney-General has wasted taxpayer money and is trying to hide something by using courts in an attempt to stop the publication of parts of his ministerial diary, his opposition counterpart says.

The long-running legal stoush continues between Senator George Brandis and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, with the challenge over access to about eight months worth of entries in the top lawmaker's schedule of appointments going to the Federal Court.

The diary, Mr Dreyfus says, contains information about who the senator would and would not meet with as decisions about budget cuts were being made, in December 2013.

"People couldn't get into see Senator Brandis because, they were told, he was too busy," he said outside court on Friday.

"It was particularly people in the legal assistance sector, people in community legal centres and particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, whose funding was cut very savagely."

The diaries may shed light on what was keeping the senator too occupied to meet with people from the services that lost funding, Mr Dreyfus said.

Mr Dreyfus was last year granted access to the diary after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled in December there was "no practical" reason for Senator Brandis to refuse a freedom of information request for parts of its content.

However, nine months later Mr Dreyfus is yet to see any entries with Senator Brandis appealing that ruling to the Federal Court.

"You'd have to think that he's trying to keep something secret because he's spending so much money and so much effort to try not to release them," he told reporters outside court.

But lawyers for Senator Brandis said a judge had made a mistake in granting the freedom of information request, by not considering the possible substantial and unreasonable interference this could place on the department.

According to Senator Brandis' office, it will take staff about 630 hours to fetch the information and check if the people named in the diary, those who aren't journalists or political staffers, have "sensitivities" about their meeting being made public.

"(It's) a laughable estimate," Mr Dreyfus said.

"I would have thought it was something that could have been dealt with in a couple of dozen hours."

So far, it's cost Australians tens of thousands of dollars and Mr Dreyfus has asked Senator Brandis to stop wasting money on delaying tactics and has asked him to refrain from appealing in the High Court, a move that could impose a further large cost on to the public.

"The only reason that a request can be refused to be processed at all is if it is a substantial and unreasonable interference with the performance of ... the attorney general's functions," Mr Dreyfus said.

"I think it's simply nonsense to suggest that a senior cabinet minister who's got 17 personal staff and 1300 people in his department cannot process at all a request for eight months of his diary."

The matter will return to the Federal Court at a date to be determined.

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