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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1364

Senator WALTERS —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the Government's refusal to release some of the documents and papers it provided to the Australian Council of Trade Unions prior to the Budget . I also refer to the Government's stated reason for the refusal which was that the release of the material would be against the public interest and should remain secret so as not to jeopardise the confidential basis of discussions between the ACTU and the Government. Why was it not in the public interest to give the information to the public but in the public interest to give it to the ACTU? Secondly, why was the ACTU given Budget information denied to other groups in the community? Thirdly, was the ACTU sworn to secrecy? Finally, is freedom of information being subverted by Ministers?

Senator BUTTON —I do not suspect that even Senator Walters would expect me to begin with a confession that freedom of information was being subverted by the Government, so the answer to the last part of the question is no. Insofar as the earlier parts of the question are concerned, I will have examined the question of whether the material, if any, which was provided to the ACTU was refused general release on the grounds of public interest. I am very doubtful whether information which was given to the ACTU was not given to other bodies which were engaged in Budget consultations with the Government. I will obtain further details in relation to the specifics of the question and give Senator Walters an answer in due course.

Senator WALTERS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am sure that Senator Button would know that Mr Howard applied for the information under the freedom of information legislation. Senator Button has indicated to the Senate that he is not aware that Mr Howard was refused that information. It is for that reason that I wonder whether Senator Button will now answer why the information was refused under the freedom of information legislation.

Senator BUTTON —I will not answer that question. Mr Howard has the rights of redress, of course, by way of appeal against any refusal.