The auditor general has slammed Liberal ministers Peter Collier, Kim Hames and Liza Harvey for withholding information in parliament.
In a report today, Colin Murphy said the three ministers’ decision to withhold information on the grounds of ‘cabinet confidentiality’ was not reasonable, given that some of the information was already in the public domain.
Education Minister Peter Collier refused to table a copy of his department's strategic asset plan in October last year.
Two months later, then-minister Kim Hames declined to do the same for the Department of Health, while Police Minister Liza Harvey rejected a request to provide parliament with information about the dollar value of the maintenance backlog for police facilities.
Mr Murphy said it was the first time he had considered cabinet confidentiality as the reason for not providing information to parliament.
“Cabinet confidentiality is a long-established principle that aims to protect the deliberations and decisions of cabinet,” the auditor general said.
“It allows cabinet ministers to debate freely polices and agency proposals as part of government decision-making.
“But the classification of information as cabinet-in-confidence is not simple. While it is important that cabinet information is kept in confidence, the principles of public interest, governmental transparency and parliamentary access to information are also vital.”
Mr Murphy determined that some of the requested information was publicly available statistics and not prepared solely for cabinet deliberations.
“In determining the decision as not reasonable, I considered that such a strategic asset plan is developed using a range of sources and information such as demographic information and statistics, and agency reports on performance,” Mr Murphy said.
“The ministers could have provided those sections of the plans that can be publicly sourced elsewhere such as annual reports, budget papers, websites and other publications.”
Opposition spokesman Ben Wyatt said the auditor general’s findings pointed to a coordinated campaign by the Barnett government to hide information from the public.
“This is the most secretive government in the history of Western Australia – they have a habit of trying to hide any information that could attract criticism,” Mr Wyatt said.
“Time and time again we’ve seen members of the Liberal government try to hide behind commercial-in-confidence or cabinet-in-confidence as an excuse to keep important information hidden from the WA public.
“If the Liberals had nothing to hide, they would release the information immediately.”