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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 35

Senator ALLISON (12:05 PM) —Our amendment (1) circulated on sheet 4485 replaces the previous amendments on the subject of public availability of assessments. It is slightly modified but responds to a number of submissions that were made to the inquiry into this bill which called for greater public availability of the reports of the National Water Commission. The bill says that the commission may make assessments under clauses 7(2) and 7(3) available to the public but only with the agreement of the minister and that no other advice or recommendations can be made available to the public. This reverses that onus and effectively indicates that the commission must make its assessments under clauses 7(2) and 7(3) available to the public unless the minister does not agree. If the minister does not agree then he or she must advise the commission of the reasons why agreement has not been given and the commission must make those reasons available to the public.

We feel it is important that this information is available. I note that there have been concerns raised about the fact that a lot of state government information and reports are often not available, particularly on water matters. This amendment would make sure that baseline assessments would be available under clause 7(2) and that the assessments and the comprehensive review would be available under 7(2)(i). Biennial water industry performance and COAG water form framework assessments would be made publicly available under these amendments.

We agree with the government that it ought not be a requirement that advice or recommendations which would fall under clause 7(1), which is largely about those internal COAG agreements, are necessarily made public. We are happy to agree with that, but we do think that the assessments in themselves will contain all of the data that will be useful to the general public. For that reason, we are happy to modify our amendments and are pleased that the government has reached some understanding of what has given rise to them and is prepared to accept them. I move Democrat amendment (1) on sheet 4485:

(1) Clause 44, page 23 (lines 20 to 25), omit the clause, substitute:

44 Public availability of assessments

(1) The NWC must make its assessments under subsections 7(2) and (3) available to the public unless the Minister does not agree.

(2) The NWC must not make any other advice or recommendations available to the public without the agreement of the Minister.

(3) If agreement is not given under subsection (1), the Minister must advise the NWC of the reasons why agreement has not been given. The NWC must make these reasons available to the public.