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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7602


Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (11:58 AM) —This matter goes back to 4 February 2009 when there was a motion before the chamber that matters ‘be laid on the table by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy no later than Thursday, 5 February 2009’ and I amended that motion to omit ‘Thursday, 5 February 2009’ and substitute ‘the day after the day the winning bid is announced’. On 13 May another motion was put and it was carried on the voices. That is the issue that we are really debating again today. That motion said, ‘if the government continues to refuse to comply with the orders of the Senate for the provision of these documents’—which were tender documents and some other bits and pieces; it was not just those documents but some others as well—’consideration of any bill relating to the government’s new national broadband network be postponed and made an order of the day for the next day of sitting after the documents described’ and so on.

The issue is whether the legislation that the government wants to put before us be held up while we wait for some other documents to come through. We have had some documents come through. Some of it, it has been claimed, is confidential and commercial in confidence. It is like claiming diplomatic immunity or something, like you see in those television shows when someone says, ‘Diplomatic immunity! I can’t do any more!’ We do need to get to the bottom of it. We do need to have a better process. A notice of motion has been put in, and I think we will deal with this once and for all. To be absolutely frank, I have been here long enough to know that both major parties have, I think, occasionally claimed certain things and all of a sudden we are left guessing, ‘Is it really or is it not?’ I think we need a far better process of dealing with commercial in confidence and confidential documents and why they cannot be tabled. I think that the notice of motion that was put in today will go to the essence of resolving that particular issue.

I have to come to a conclusion on whether I think we need more documents, which may be confidential or whatever, to debate the legislation that the government wants to put through or whether that will unnecessarily hold it up. Is it going to substantially change the debate on those bills? I do no think so. With this motion from Senator Conroy, even though potentially there may be politics being played by both major parties, I have got to look at the essence from here. The reason I suggested that Senator Conroy change the notice of motion was that I did not want to make any links—whether there were links to NBN or whether there were not. There are clearly some links to NBN. You cannot deny that. But I had a look at the bill that the minister wants to put to parliament over the coming days, and I could not hand-on-my-heart justify not allowing that to come into the chamber before some other documents that have been claimed to be commercial in confidence or confidential. We need to sort that issue out. I think that we should allow the bill to come in and have a look at that and see where it goes from there.