Journalists Kristy Sexton-McGrath and Chris Calcino have faced government roadblocks in their reporting of important issues.
Journalists Kristy Sexton-McGrath and Chris Calcino have faced government roadblocks in their reporting of important issues.

Shocking tale of government secrecy

WHEN veteran news reporter Kristy Sexton-McGrath faced denials about taxpayer-funded cattle being quietly moved off a Cape York station, the dismissals made her more determined to reveal what was happening under the cover of darkness.

While working on a series of articles for the ABC, Ms Sexton-McGrath discovered a federally-funded entity had been quietly destocking its cattle properties with a view to use the land for carbon farming and Davidson's plum production.

Journalists Kristy Sexton-McGrath from ABC and Chris Calcino from The Cairns Post stand up for the 'Your Right to Know' Campaign. PICTURE: STEWART MCLEAN
Journalists Kristy Sexton-McGrath from ABC and Chris Calcino from The Cairns Post stand up for the 'Your Right to Know' Campaign. PICTURE: STEWART MCLEAN

"When I found out truckloads of cattle were being sent to Mareeba in the middle of the night and that prime breeding cattle worth $3500 were being sold for slaughter for $300, I knew the public had a right to know," Ms Sexton-McGrath said.

"I knew my story was correct; I knew it was happening because I had paperwork on the sales but the Federal Government categorically denied it was happening.

"Eventually I was given something in writing but it was a straight denial. 

"There were so many roadblocks put in front of me but I knew it was correct and we decided to go ahead and publish the story."

For two months, the government refused to disclose the reason behind the cattle movements.

In the end, a statement was posted on a federally-funded indigenous corporation's website confirming the cattle sales.

"I'm still quite shocked about it. These bureaucrats knew what was going on but refused to admit it," Ms Sexton-McGrath said.

"Here was millions of dollars of taxpayers' money which had gone into the establishment of these cattle stations and to see it shut down to go into carbon and Davidson's plum farming was alarming."

As a result of the media coverage, the destocking stopped.

Cairns Post reporter Chris Calcino has encountered his fair share of brick walls over the years, from refused right-to-information requests about police misconduct to governments manning the battle stations while conflicts of interest were being investigated.

"Often though, it's the most seemingly insignificant details you could imagine," he said.

"An infrastructure project might be delayed, a construction budget may have ballooned out, or maybe a fund promised before an election has not been delivered on time.

"These are all things that can and will come to light eventually, because they are just so glaringly obvious to anyone with depth of vision that surpasses their own snout.

"For whatever reason - and often to their own detriment - government departments seem obsessed with maintaining that seal of secrecy for even the most trivial matters.

"It is ingrained, and that is a shame in a society that holds transparency and truth as two of its guiding principles.

"Secrecy for secrecy's sake is a stupid, regressive and frankly dangerous standpoint on which to run a free country like Australia."

 

 

HOW CAIRNS POST IS FIGHTING FOR YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW

Cairns Post requested a list of investigations into police misconduct by the Ethical Standards Command for the Northern Region, specifically relating to Far North Queensland, with particulars about each allegation. The request was rejected with the QPS saying it would take 256 hours to complete.

A reporter made a Right to Information request to Cairns Regional Council for the contents of a report by the Queensland Ombudsman into how its councillors declared conflicts of interest and perceived conflicts of interest. The report had been finalised and provided to the council CEO.

Cairns Post had approached him about the report and requested it through the council's media officer. The request was refused, but the Ombudsman eventually made the report public anyway.

A Right to Information application filed by a Cairns Post reporter in 2014, showed the LNP Government spent nearly $250,000 to hire understaffed and ill-equipped indigenous rangers to catch crocodiles in Cairns waterways, resulting in a review of the government's crocodile management program.

A Freedom of Information application filed by a Cairns Post reporter in 2017 with the Australian Crime Intelligence Commission revealed Papua New Guinea hunters were breaking international law by poaching dugong in Australian waters, potentially contributing to dwindling populations of the endangered mammals.

A Cairns Post Right to Information application seeking statistics on bullying cases within the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service has so far taken nearly six months to be processed, as of June 2019. The health service has requested extensions three times, due to RTI staff either being on holidays, or "still reviewing" documentation.

A Right to Information application filed by Cairns Post with Cassowary Coast Regional Council, requesting documentation relevant to the controversial recruitment of a council manager, came back with an invoice for $472 for 15 hours' worth of processing.

 

 



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