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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2070

Senator PUPLICK —I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether his attention has been drawn to a recent decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, constituted by Sir William Prentice, on the application of freedom of information legislation. In that decision, did the Tribunal seek to take into account the motives of the person seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act? Since amendments to various Acts Interpretation Acts have been made to allow courts and tribunals to take into account the intention of the Parliament in passing this legislation, is it not a fact that both the Senate Committee which reported on this matter, Senator Durack in introducing the original legislation and Senator Gareth Evans in introducing amending legislation, made it quite clear that the motive of applicants requesting information under the freedom of information legislation was not a matter to be taken into account by tribunals and courts? Therefore, will the Government either seek some appeal against the decision made by Sir William Prentice or, if appeals are not available, seek some amendment to the Act making it quite clear that the motives of applicants for freedom of information requests is not a proper thing for courts to take into account in making their determinations, particularly since the Tribunal appears to have laid weight upon the fact that the request was made in order to embarrass the person or organisation from which the information was sought?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have seen Press reports of the decision of Sir William Prentice to which Senator Puplick refers in which there is some suggestion that Sir William was prepared to take motive into account although equally those reports, as I recall them, said that he did not, in the event, take into account motive in determining the particular matter before him. Maybe under those circumstances-

Senator Puplick —It says so in his judgment though.

Senator GARETH EVANS —As I recall it, that is my understanding of what I have read in the Press, which so often can be quite astray. I readily concede that this is something that can be properly understood only against the background of a careful reading of the judgment. Senator Puplick is correct in his description of the understandings which lay behind the passage of the legislation. They are made quite explicit in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. Certainly it was not intended that motive or intent be taken into account.

As to any action that might now be taken by way of appeal-if that is appropriate in terms of the particular matter-or legislative amendment, I will refer that aspect of the question to the Attorney-General, who of course has the responsibility for these matters.