Doctor and activist

FOI and Secrecy

12 April 2023

I haven’t had a problem with secrecy since last week.

One of my patients, a 46 year old single Mum with a 12 year old daughter, was working as a school cleaner for a personnel agency that has a NSW Education Dept. contract.  Her boss told her to clean the classroom ceiling.  The method she was to use was to have a desk and use a chair to climb onto it, wash a bit of ceiling, then get down and move the desk and chair and do the next bit.  She said that she did not think that this was very safe, especially as she was working alone.  Her boss told her that if she wanted to keep her job, she had better shut up and get on with it.

She did this for some time, then she stumbled as she was getting down and landed awkwardly on her sacrum with her leg underneath her.  Her knee was badly injured so she went to ED in distress and later had surgery on it.  The ED was so focused on the knee that her back pain was overlooked.  Later, her GP added it to her Workers Comp claim, but the insurer bullied the GP into taking it off her certificate and is now refusing to pay for its investigation and specialist referral.  Her situation is bad, as she has a lot of pain and may never work again in a physical job and has poor English skills.   She is upset and depressed as her main pleasure was to play basketball with her daughter, and now she is concerned that she may not even be able to support her.

I wrote to Safework with a signed letter of approval from her to ask them to investigate the accident and take some action.  She was keen that there be some accountability and she was not confident of her English.  Safework called her briefly without an interpreter to check some details and we heard nothing further.  Some months later I wrote to Safework and asked what they had done, pointing out that I had acted for my patient and we wanted some feedback.  They replied that I could only have this if I made a GIPA (Government Information Public Access= FOI) request.  One might ask why a complainant needs a request to see the outcome of their own complaint.

Rex Patrick, the ex-South Australian Senator is  in his more major battle with the Federal Attorney-General, who seems to be hiding Liberal scandals in the ‘Sports Rorts’ affair with Bridget Mackenzie and Scott Morrison.  One might ask why Mark Drefus is hiding the Liberals misdemeanours, but the explanation may lie in Labor’s similar efforts with ‘Solar Rorts’ after they were elected.

New Zealand has the ‘Official Information Act 1982 which makes all government information  available on request unless permission is asked from the Ombudsman to keep it secret, and if it is withheld there are specific reasons which must be stated.   The Act was reviewed in 1997, but retained because it was felt to be in the public interest.  Australia has a long way to go.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

View more posts from this author