Censorship fears over bushfires Royal Commission

 Censorship fears over bushfires Royal Commission

22 April 2009

published by www.news.com.au

Australia —  Censorship fears have been raised over the bushfires Royal Commission with government ministers required to vet all submissions made by public servants and other government staff.

The views of firefighters and public servants across government departments and agencies must be signed off by the minister in charge before being lodged. And the Premier can decide to have the final say or refer the submission to cabinet for approval.

The rules are outlined in a 2002 Department of Premier and Cabinet document, Guidelines for Submissions and Responses to Inquiries. The document states that for every submission approval must be obtained from “each minister relevant to the submission” and the treasurer if appropriate.

“The Premier may choose to veto the decision to proceed with a submission or require the final submission to be approved by him or Cabinet,” the document says.

Last month, the Government was accused of gagging public servants by restricting the various arms of government, including the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), to one legal counsel.

The Opposition says the Commission will be hamstrung in its task if the evidence is carefully controlled by the Government.

“The Royal Commissioner’s job is to find the truth,” Opposition scrutiny of government spokesman David Davis said.

“Submissions or evidence before the Royal Commission should not be massaged, vetted or doctored by the Premier.”

The Opposition is also concerned about how conflicting statements by different agencies, such as the CFA and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, will be managed.

Comment is being sought from the Victorian Government.

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