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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1873

Senator XENOPHON (10:01 AM) —This issue about FOI is important to me because there was an argument at an earlier stage about whether the FOI provisions in this bill should be much broader. I accept that the comfort I have been given is that this review will take place, but the review ought to have some minimum benchmarks. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask the government now for some minimum benchmarks in relation to the review. Will the review, for instance, seek to obtain submissions from key stakeholders—from the Competitive Carriers Coalition, from Telstra, from Optus, from the NBN itself and from others seeking information, such as the media? I would have thought that the review would only be as good as the information it seeks, and I would have thought that that would be pretty basic. I am not sure whether Senator Ludlam has a view on this and I do not want to delay the committee stage too long on this particular clause, but how this FOI review will be carried out is a fundamental issue. Also, given that there is a considerable body of legal authority on freedom of information—and again I refer to the Commonwealth v John Fairfax & Sons Ltd decision and in particular the judgment of Justice Mason that governments cannot claim confidential information unless they establish real detriment—is that one of the factors that will be considered in the context of this review? Presumably the Law Council of Australia, legal groups and even my good friend Associate Professor Zumbo might want to put in a submission on this. I am not sure; it is FOI rather than competition.

Senator Conroy —Is soliciting in the Senate chamber legal?

Senator XENOPHON —Senator Conroy asked me whether soliciting in the Senate chamber is legal. There are different definitions of soliciting, but I do not think I am referring to the definition of soliciting that Senator Conroy is referring to!

I think these are not unreasonable questions, and I am just hoping that I can get some clarity from the minister in relation to the scope of such a review.