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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2975

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(10.27) —I am sorry to disappoint Senator Durack, but there are good arguments for the Government taking the view that it does. Essentially it is that the provision would be unnecessary to the extent that senators and members are able to seek the information at Estimates committee hearings and very rarely to my knowledge are they denied it, although there are circumstances, much insisted upon by Senator Durack when he was in government, in which it may be inappropriate to so supply such information. Equally, members of the public have access to it, quite properly, in the overwhelming majority of instances through the operation of the Freedom of Information Act. What it means, however, not to have a blanket statutory provision creating an automatic obligation to lay all this out is that privacy in those very few situations in which that conceivably could be relevant and commercial confidentiality in those few situations in which it is likely to be relevant could then be protected, could be the subject of a claim of exemption, where this was desirable and the particular case could be argued out in a way that is impossible when there is a blanket statutory obligation.

A further argument is that the consolidation of information of the kind that would readily be available where there is a statutory obligation to report about it might tend to set a floor, as it were, for these terms and conditions and prejudice the ability of the Commonwealth to get the best deal it can in all cases. That might be thought to be a fairly robust employer view of the situation, but it is one which I think Senator Rae would particularly appreciate as a rigorous exponent and advocate of the art of clean, swift, streamlined administrative management in this area. Although I readily accept the principle that in only the most exceptional cases should this information be withheld, I argue that there are exceptional cases and the statute ought not to override that circumstance completely, particularly so far as commercial confidence is concerned.