REVEALED: 500,000 pages of documents state wont let you see
Hundreds of thousands of government documents relating to the performance of ministers, links to lobbyists and convictions of police officers have been kept secret from Queenslanders, a bombshell new report reveals.
The refusal to release documents comes as taxpayers spend half-a-million dollars attempting to access information through the Right to Information and privacy laws.
Annual RTI data reveals Queenslanders spent $550,000 on 16,118 applications in 2019-20, an increase of 8 per cent compared to the last year where there were 14,863 applications.
Exchanges between Labor-linked lobbyist Evan Moorhead and government ministers, private emails of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Transport Minister Mark Bailey and the number of crimes committed by Queensland Police Service officers were among a litany of Right to Information application rejections.
In the 2019-20 financial year State Government departments and authorities assessed 3,222,461 pages of documents, with the public refused access to about 513,278 of those - or 16 per cent.
There were 407 internal reviews and 643 external reviews, increases of 19 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.
Queensland Health had by far the most documents considered, with 1,827,679 pages, with just 5.5 per cent refused, which skewed the findings for other departments.
The Department of Child Safety considered 122,939 pages and refused 86,021, or almost 70 per cent, while the Department of Agriculture declined to release about 50 per cent of the 7199 pages considered.
Of the total 6716 RTI requests, Queensland Health had the most with 1837, followed by the Queensland Police Service with 1213 and the Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs with 1101.
Griffith University Political Scientist Paul Williams said both sides of politics were guilty of eroding the era of transparency envisaged by Queensland corruption-buster Tony Fitzgerald QC.
"It's not a gradual decline in a straight line - both sides of politics have belied and betrayed the Fitzgerald spirit," Dr Williams said.
"That has been in decline really since the mid-90s."
Dr Williams said Mr Fitzgerald recommended all government information be made available.
"The default position now appears to be that all government information is secret, except for exceptions," he said.
Dr Williams called for a review into RTI process every five-to-ten years, and said it should assess the cost of applying for documents.
"No one should be denied information because they can't afford it," he said.
RTI Consultants Principal Lawyer Rebecca Murray, Queensland's former principal RTI officer, said the release of information should be favoured to improve accountability and transparency.
"In its current form, the Act doesn't serve either the government or the public well," she said.
"The complexity of the Act means that its difficult for the government to apply correctly.
"It also means it's difficult for the public to understand the decisions being made."
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the Palaszczuk Government placed a high priority on "accountability, transparency and integrity within government, and Queenslanders having the right to know".
"Right to Information and Information Privacy applications in the last financial year were processed without undue delay, despite the disruptions and challenges posed by COVID-19. This is a solid reflection of the government getting on with the job," she said.
"The latest data in this report still does not exceed the amount taxpayers spent when the LNP were in government. In 2012-13, the LNP Government had Queensland taxpayers spend more than $600,000 in one financial year."
But Opposition Integrity spokeswoman Fiona Simpson accused the government of operating "in the dark"
"These RTI figures show that the State Government is hiding the truth from honest Queenslanders," she said.
"Information held by government belongs to the people and they have a right to access it.
"It's outrageous that the government is charging over half a million dollars for Queenslanders to have access to their own information."
The Crime and Corruption Commission refused to release documents in response to a request for a copy of the State Archivist's report provided to the watchdog about whether Mr Bailey committed an offence by destroying public records when he deactivated his private email account after an RTI request.
He was cleared of criminal conduct.
The CCC refused to release the report, arguing it was exempt under the Act as it was used in an investigation by a crime body performing its functions.
It also refused to release investigation documents.
The Government also refused to release the report under RTI on the basis it had been used in a CCC investigation.
The Queensland Police Service blocked the release of tens of thousands of documents sought under Right to Information and privacy laws, with less than a quarter of the pages considered released.
Refusals include police officer convictions and exit interviews on why staff are choosing to leave.
New figures show the QPS received 2904 RTI and Information Privacy applications in the last year, which cost taxpayers $67,050, but of the 55,974 pages considered just 12,971 were released.
The QPS refused 138 RTI applications and there were 153 external reviews requested by people submitting requests, according to the latest RTI annual report.
Of the 29,538 RTI pages considered by the QPS it refused 24,049, most of which were deemed "contrary" to public interest.
In applications made by The Courier-Mail during that period, the RTI unit of the service refused the release of exit interview documents on why experienced police were leaving the service.
It said releasing non-identifiable exit interviews could "discourage truthful responses" in the future and would also have a negative impact on the ability of the QPS to use the information.
The QPS also refused to release any details of how many of its officers have been convicted of offences since the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption.
It argued the process would be an "unreasonable diversion of resources" for the service despite it being a multibillion-dollar agency, while also stating the police service did not hold that type of record of its own officers going back 30 years.
Both requests went to external review with the Office of the Information Commissioner however did not result in the release of any documents.
A RTI request to police to detail crimes involving Facebook was denied, with a suggestion the request was ambiguous, despite the request for information identical to previous years when material was released.
The fees paid to access the information was about the same paid in 2018-19.
Originally published as REVEALED: What government secrets are costing you