Secret discussions about the mandatory dairy code will be held tomorrow at an invitation-only meeting hosted by the Department of Agriculture in Canberra.
Representative bodies were invited at very short notice to the meeting, which will be held just days after submissions on the draft mandatory dairy code closed.
They were only allowed to attend if their nominated participant signed stringent confidentiality agreements that appears to gag them entirely - even from briefing anyone else in their organisation about any element of the meeting - with the threat of legal action for any breaches.
Stock & Land contacted the person who issued the invitations for the meeting, federal Department of Agriculture markets and competition branch assistant secretary Joanna Stanion.
The interview began with Stock & Land reporter Marian Macdonald congratulating Ms Stanion on her relatively new appointment.
S&L: "So, what is tomorrow's meeting all about?"
JS: "As you know, we just finished the consultation for the dairy code and tomorrow's really to talk through the main issues that have come out from the consultation."
"And just to, yeah, really just test some of the key themes.
"So sorry, where are you from again, Marian?"
S&L: "Stock & Land."
JS: "Sorry, I didn't get that."
S&L: "Stock & Land"
JS: "Oh, Stock & Land."
S&L: "Yes. But I'm wondering why it needs to be confidential."
JS: "Because that is the department's preference."
S&L: "Why is it the department's preference?"
JS: "So how do you know about tomorrow's meeting?"
S&L: "Is that meant to be a secret?"
JS: "It's a confidential meeting."
S&L: "I understand that the contents of the meeting are confidential but is the meeting itself confidential? Like, is it a secret meeting?"
JS: "No, it's not a secret meeting but it's a confidential meeting."
"So we had asked, the letter of invitation requested that, um, I'll just get the invitation.
"Look, the department has, in the course of its business, and particularly when it's developing big pieces of legislation or policy documents, it has confidential meetings with key stakeholders.
"And this is just another one of those types of meetings."
S&L: "Right. So why do they need to to be confidential?"
JS: "So that the department can test the views of key stakeholders in a way that so that the interests of the people who are participating are not released publicly."
"So who told you about the meeting?"
S&L: "Does that matter?"
JS: "Well, to some extent, yes."
S&L: "There's nothing in the letter that I've seen that says that the meeting itself is secret, that it is a meeting that nobody's allowed to know about."
JS: "No, but no, that's true. But the department would expect that in inviting people to a confidential forum that they not discuss the contents of the meeting."
S&L: "Well, they clearly haven't discussed the contents of the meeting because it hasn't happened yet, has it?"
JS: "No, no."
S&L: "So they haven't done anything wrong, have they?"
JS: "Well, no, not necessarily, but we would expect that they not publicise too widely that they're coming to meeting obviously their, their members, probably their members, would know that they've been invited to a meeting."
"And this is just, this is not an unusual process for government to hold meetings with key stakeholders, the contents of which are confidential.
"This is, this is just.
"I've been involved in a number of these things in different policy areas, and sometimes the government has meetings with key organisations that are confidential."
S&L: "If the individual who goes to the meeting is required to keep a confidence, how can they then report back to their members who they represent about the meeting? Or are they allowed to or not?"
At this point, another voice broke into the conversation, announcing herself as Rosemary Deininger, the head of Agriculture Policy Division, and said the department's media team would be in contact.
At the time this story was published, nobody from the department had called Stock & Land.