For the second time in a month, Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo has been forced to defend his department's tardy response to freedom of information requests.
But despite facing an Information Commissioner investigation into the department's repeated breaches of statutory processing timeframes, Mr Pezzullo told a Senate inquiry into press freedom on Friday he would not go cap in hand to government for more resources to deal with the 21,000-plus requests he expects this year.
"If I were to shift any resources anywhere, they would go into the protection of children, including in relation to abhorrent activities on the dark web; countering foreign interference; cyberprotection of our critical infrastructure; and so on and so forth. In those areas, I would seek additional resources from the government, and I think the business case would stack up substantively and substantially," Mr Pezzullo said.
"Where I to ask for resources in relation to the processing of FOIs, given budget operating rules, I expect the government would say, not unreasonably, 'You need to re-prioritise and afford those resources to that function as you see fit, but you will be not be getting additional resources.' Now, I haven't asked them ... and I don't intend to, because if I ask for additional resources it will be for those other areas."
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick accused Mr Pezzullo of picking and choosing was laws he wanted to comply with.
"I don't think you have the ability to say, 'I think this law is more important than this law over here.' That's not your function," Senator Patrick said.
"That's improper actually."
Mr Pezzullo said he would wait for the information commissioner to give him a "certificate to get me to do better".
"I look forward to that certificate," Mr Pezzullo said.
The entire exchange is rather telling as it suggests departments do not see freedom of information - and by extension transparency - as a core function of government.
Grappling with shrinking budgets, average staffing level caps and ever growing demand, departmental secretaries won't make the the public's right to know a priority, unless the Morrison government does.
We should not be forced to choose between protecting children from online predators and holding the government to account.