Boffins could face charges

by Chris Griffith
Published 5 November 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A Brisbane man yesterday said he now had the names and contact details of up to eight public servants and council workers he was considering suing for defamation, following a landmark win under the state's freedom of information law.

In September, Sunnybank Hills resident John Murphy won a two-year battle for the names of government employees whom he said wrote "malicious" information about him on a treasury file held by the Office of State Revenue.

Mr Murphy said the Queensland bureaucracy had finally handed over the names after it unsuccessfully challenged the release in the Brisbane Supreme Court last month.

"I know who they are, and I know where they are", he said

"I am looking at my legal options, and the matter has gone to my barrister, Anthony Morris QC."

He said he considered his case "the flip side" to the predicament of 61-year-old pensioner Beverly Lukic, who faced defamation proceedings by a Transport Department official after she complained about him in a letter to Premier Wayne Goss. The case was dropped.

"If public servants believe they can sue ordinary citizens, they must accept that ordinary citizens can sue them," he said yesterday.

However life has not been incident-free for the 50-year-old since his court victory four weeks ago.

Oxley CIB detectives are investigating an incident on October 20th, where two cubic metres of composted chicken manure mixed with top soil was dumped on the Murphy's driveway.

"This had been ordered, quite unknown to me, to be delivered COD before 7.30 that morning. In good faith, the garden centre down the road delivered and dumped it with my daughter, while we were away."

The nursery manager of the Greenworld Garden Centre at Sunnybank Hills, Len Waldron, said the centre could not remember who placed the order, but said the centre was given Mr Murphy's name, address, and phone number for the delivery.

Mr Murphy's run in with the bureaucracy began in 1991, when he argued with a Brisbane City Council parking officer who booked him for parking in a loading zone without a permit. He immediately complained to the council and requested an apology.

The episode was forgotten until 1993, when, to his amazement, he discovered a version of the incident had been recorded in a file on an unrelated matter held by the Office of State Revenue.

At that stage, the office was querying Mr Murphy for wrongly claiming a land tax exemption on a family trust property from 1989 to 1992. He claimed the office had wrongly advised him he was exempt, but he later paid the tax.

"I contacted my accountant and asked him to arrange a meeting between the two of us and someone from the land tax office."

But he said the official would not meet him unless the police were also present. He said the official told his accountant: "We keep records about people like him".

"Naturally when that was reported to me, my curiosity was aroused about what was on my file. That's when I served a freedom of information request on the Office of State Revenue. I wanted to see if the reason behind that statement was in that file.

"I soon got the file which wrongly alleged I had criminally assaulted the parking attendant. What I didn't get was the names of the people responsible for receiving that information, for recording it, for filing it, and for disseminating it."

He said the Brisbane City Council had since confirmed there was no assault.

But more was to come.

Information had been filed or circulated claiming he was to be prosecuted for a rate matter, that he had a violent nature, and that he was stupid, ignorant, and lacking mental and verbal skills.

He said improper searches and inquiries were conducted into his business and personal affairs, including a reference to the affairs of his daughter. He said those involved had wrongly believed she had worked as an article clerk in the Crown Law Office.

"This file contained more than just land tax matters. To me, it represented a return to the days of the special branch files."

Mr Murphy then began his two year FOI battle for the names of the public servants and council workers who had handled his file and whom he claimed had defamed him.

Initially he lost an internal review of the decision to deny him the names conducted by Under Treasurer Henry Smerdon, but Mr Smerdon's decision was set aside by Information Commissioner Fred Albietz in September.

The government then took the unprecedented action of seeking a judicial review of Mr Albietz's decision in the Supreme Court, but Justice de Jersey dismissed the application.

Mr Murphy said, as far as he was aware, the Office of State Revenue had not corrected the file, despite the council assurance he now had that no assault took place.

He said he was considering defamation action against up to three Brisbane City Council employees, and up to five Treasury officials.

"We've got to look at our options, because there are quite a number of incidents we can sue on, and we have to decide whether we'll sue on all of them or some of them.

"Every citizens has a duty to look at responding to acts of gross and improper behaviour by public servants."