Victoria’s Premier’s Department is trying to overturn a decision to release secret documents at the height of the coronavirus pandemic using taxpayers’ money.
The Victorian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPC) has launched a taxpayer-funded last-minute bid to stop the publication of secret documents about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniel Andrews’ office was instructed by Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel to hand over the documents, which included polls and emails, which detailed community feedback on how he and the government performed in 2020 .
QDOS surveyed members of the public before and after the second lockdown, which lasted 112 days, to give the Prime Minister, his leadership and the way he acted ‘on the advice of health officials’ a score on ten, showed redacted documents.
Victorians were also asked about their thoughts on the COVID-19 restrictions and whether it was “far too soft, too soft, about right, too hard, far too hard”.
Another question posed was whether “you are more concerned about the impact of coronavirus on health and society OR its impact on jobs and the economy”.
The Australian newspaper asked the DPC for the 64 freedom of information documents but Mr Andrews’ office refused to release or hand over seven specific documents with heavy redactions.
Mr Bluemmel reported “particularly strong” public interest in seeing the documents after Melbourne became the world’s most locked down city at 262 days during the pandemic.
“I am not convinced that their disclosure would be contrary to the public interest,” he told the publication.
“I also consider that there is a public interest in disclosing the expenditure of public funds.
“In this case, when these funds are spent by government to survey attitudes on issues important to the community that can influence and impact government decision-making, the public interest is particularly strong.”
The newspaper’s particular interest in the seven documents led to the battle.
It included two emails and attachments sent on July 9 and July 24, 2022, before Mr Andrews sent the state into a phase four lockdown.
The Information Commissioner argued that four of the seven stories should be published after the publication appealed ten months ago to Mr Bluemmel.
The DPC filed its appeal with Victoria Civil and Administrative Court on Friday afternoon. We don’t know how long it will take.
Melbourne, home to more than five million people, was subject to some of the toughest restrictions in Australia.
The city suffered six closures that lasted nearly nine months.
There were also multiple protests against the closures, mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination passport which determined whether Melburnians could enter certain premises.
One of the biggest demonstrations occurred in September when tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the city before storming nearby highways and bringing traffic to a halt.
The following day, the crowd turned to the Shrine of Remembrance where they sat on the steps of the war memorial surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed police who saw tear gas used and led to more than 200 arrests.