Liberal MP David Davis has accused the Victorian government of delaying the public release of crucial briefings that led to the state's lockdowns during 2020.
During a directions hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Monday, Mr Davis accused the government of a "ruse", and said it had tried to drag out his freedom of information requests "at every single turn".
As virus cases surged to more than 700 a day in July 2020, the government imposed a harsh lockdown, with a five kilometre movement rule, four reasons to leave home, and a night-time curfew.
The restrictions lasted for 112 days, bringing case numbers down, but taking a heavy toll on the state's economy.
Mr Davis has lodged four separate FoI requests for access to the formal briefs that the state's chief health officer and health minister relied on in deciding to impose the restrictions.
"I am very troubled that the government has not acted on this at all. We have nothing from them but a blanket refusal," the opposition upper house leader told the hearing.
He told VCAT there was a broad public interest in his FoI requests being resolved, with the government obligated to consider accountability, transparency and proportionality in making its decisions.
Three of Mr Davis' requests were initially lodged in July 2020, and the fourth in December.
At the VCAT teleconference hearing, government lawyers said there had been unexpected delays in dealing with the FoIs, because the department section concerned was currently managing virus outbreaks.
The government asked VCAT to review all four requests together, arguing they had issues in common and the government would rely on the same witness in each proceeding.
But Mr Davis said the matters were getting "long in the tooth" and hearing them together would result in further delay.
"I deeply fear the government is happy to shackle these matters to one another and thereby kick the can further down the track," he said.
The VCAT senior member ruled the requests would be heard at the same time but the matters would remain separate.
She ordered the Department of Health to provide its evidence and an outline of its arguments by September, with the next hearing to be held on September 6.
Australian Associated Press