It has been revealed that former resources minister Matt Canavan delayed releasing documents about meetings with coal lobbyists until he resigned, cutting off a freedom of information request.

In November, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) requested access to all records of Senator Canavan’s interactions with New Hope Coal and its lobbyists as the Government prepared a crackdown on the use of secondary boycotts by environmental activists.

The crackdown was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a mining lobby lunch.

Six relevant documents were identified, but Senator Canavan asked for more time to consult third parties. The ACF says his deadline came and went with no response.

Now that he has resigned his ministry, the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources says the request is void.

The documents have allegedly not been kept by the new minister, Keith Pitt, and so are “no longer in the possession of a minister”.

It highlights a major flaw in the FOI regime, wherein it becomes almost impossible to access documents held by a minister if they shift portfolios or resign.

ACF campaigner Christian Slattery says the public has a clear right to know how Senator Canavan interacted with industry before the activist crackdown.

“The public has a right to know who is lobbying our elected representatives,” he told the Guardian.

“In this instance, the government has used Australia’s broken FOI laws to try to hide the influence of the coal industry over our politics.”

The matter has been referred to the office of the Australian information commissioner.