Queensland government found guilty of abusing the Freedom of Information Act

The Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry Report, produced by the Inquiry Commissioner Geoff Davies, QC, has concluded that a culture of secrecy fostered by the Beattie Government and the previous coalition government was a primary cause of unsafe care in the health system and the disaster at Bundaberg Base Hospital. The final report can be viewed here: http://www.qphci.qld.gov.au/Final_Report.htm.

The Davies report has ruled that the conduct of the present Cabinet and its predecessor in hiding vital material highly relevant to the health care of countless Queensland citizens was "inexcusable and an abuse of the Freedom of Information Act".

Many findings were raised against Premier Peter Beattie's Government and the previous coalition government for orchestrating such secrecy to protect their political reputations: "It involved a blatant exercise of secreting information from public gaze for no reason other than that the disclosure of the information might be embarrassing to government," Mr Davies said. He found the campaigns of concealment at the highest government levels were contrary to the public interest, misleading and, ultimately, deadly.

But he also found that "concealment practices of this kind, encouraged by politicians, filtered down to Queensland Health staff and, through them, to administrators in public hospitals".
This contributed to the lack of responsiveness at Bundaberg Base Hospital when clinical and nursing staff were trying to raise numerous complaints and concerns about Dr Jayant Patel, but were ignored: there were 13 deaths in which an unacceptable level of care on the part of Dr Patel contributed to the adverse outcome; and there were a further 4 deaths in which an unacceptable level of care by Dr Patel may have contributed to the outcome. He found, in addition, 31 surviving patients where Dr Patel’s poor level of care contributed to or may have contributed to an adverse outcome.

"Bringing to light these and other problems in the public hospital system was made very much more difficult by a culture of concealment of practices which, if brought to light, might be embarrassing to Queensland Health or the Government," Mr Davies said. "This culture started at the top, with successive governments misusing the Freedom of Information Act to enable potentially embarrassing information to be concealed from the public."

Mr Davies found that the concealment by successive governments of waiting-list data showing the tens of thousands of people seeking appointments with specialists, prior to going on to waiting lists for surgery, was inexcusable and carried out for political purposes. The inquiry heard evidence of a refrigerator trolley being used to cart thousands of documents into Cabinet to avoid release under Freedom of Information laws.

Governments denounced for suppressing truth: The fundamental problem had been a culture of secrecy and lies (The Courier-Mail, Queensland, 1 December 2005)