Turnbull's communications 'blue book' stays secret

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Turnbull's communications 'blue book' stays secret
Think of blue books like Cabinet documents, says department.

Some public interest, but not enough?

The incoming government briefs given to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull will stay out of public sight for the time being after a request to release them was knocked back.

In a freedom of information decision dated November 11, assistant secretary of governance in the Department of Communications' corporate division, Andrew Madsen, said he considered public interest factors in releasing the so-called 'blue book' advice as being of only "moderate strength".

But he said the reasons not to commit the advice to the public record were "considerably stronger".

Madsen raised fears that releasing the incoming government briefs could undermine the process and purpose of preparing them in the first place.

"Incoming government briefs are regarded by agencies, the government and the opposition as being of similar importance as Cabinet documents," Madsen said. (pdf)

"It is imperative that such advice and briefings are provided to the incoming Minister in a frank and candid manner, containing all of the strategic information necessary for the incoming Minister to make fully informed decisions.

"If confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, future incoming government briefs are unlikely to contain such frank and comprehensive advice."

Madsen said future blue books may be made "more generic [and] bland" if confidentiality of the material could not be guaranteed.

The department also indicated it had little appetite to be "drawn into public controversy and potential conflict" with Turnbull so early in the new government's term.

Refusing access to the blue book appeared to be as much about risk mitigation as protecting government processes.

Madsen noted the blue book "may be speculative in parts" about matters not yet laid out by the new government.

He also raised concerns about having the briefs being written about "with interests in mind beyond those of the Minister for whom they are prepared".

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare criticised the decision, saying there was "no reason why Ministers shouldn't release their incoming government briefs unless they've got something to hide".

"This is not the government that they promised to be," Clare said.

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