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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3367


Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy, both in that capacity and particularly in his capacity as Minister representing the Attorney-General. My question has regard to the Minister's long-standing advocacy of open government and of the need for strong and meaningful freedom of information legislation. I refer to a matter that I mentioned in a debate at which the Minister was present the other day which relates to a request by Mr Neil Brown, under the Freedom of Information Act, for access to documents relating to the Government's decision to remove its ban on the export of uranium to France. Is the Minister aware that the Department of Trade identified 14 documents relevant to that request but denied access to all but two of them which were then doctored in the most ridiculous fashion so as to remove virtually anything that could not have been learned from a ministerial Press release? Is the Minister aware that one of the grounds for denying access to ten documents was that `disclosure could lead to uncertainty as to the intentions of the Commonwealth'? Can the Minister explain what this extraordinary phrase means? Would it be fair to assume that the potential for further embarrassment, particularly within Australian Labor Party ranks, is the main reason for this ludicrous decision which makes a mockery of the whole freedom of information process?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I have no knowledge of the sequence of events involved in the claim for freedom of information access to Department of Trade documents. The operation of the Freedom of Information Act is such that Mr Brown has legal remedies available to him if he thinks that an exemption was wrongfully or improperly claimed. I leave it to him to take that course of action.


Senator DURACK —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. In view of the non-answer from the Minister, and indeed the non-interest that he seems to be displaying in the subject now, will the Minister refer to the Attorney-General the answer that Mr Brown has received, as an example of the way in which that Act for which he is responsible is working?


Senator GARETH EVANS —No, Mr President. Senator Durack can do that himself. He is perfectly grown up and capable of doing so.