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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1416


Senator XENOPHON (10:11 AM) —With respect to the government, I do not see the point of opposing this amendment. It allows for a structure of transparency and openness so that the recommendations made by this body in relation to preventative health will be published on the net for all Australians to see. If the government acknowledges that these recommendations would be subject to freedom of information requests anyway, what is wrong with having a formal structure in place that deals with these so that we know that, within 12 months of such advice being given, it will be made public?

Senator McLucas says that the organisation needs to give frank and fearless advice to the minister—and, in some way, requiring these documents will not allow for that. With respect, I see that as quite a specious argument. The fact is that these documents will, in any event, be subject to FOI and to scrutiny through the estimates process. I think it is important that we have a process to require these documents to be made public within 12 months of the advice being given. The minister says the agency will be a democratic institution and that that is why it is important that we have transparency in relation to this. If the Australian National Preventive Health Agency is to be an independent and effective body which will investigate and make recommendations about what preventative health strategies should be introduced or revised, why shouldn’t its recommendations be made publicly available?

The 12-month time frame suggested by Senator Siewert is a sensible time frame; I acknowledge that. It will give ample time for the government to consider, to review and to implement to varying degrees recommendations by the agency. If the agency makes recommendations that the government fundamentally disagrees with then it can say so. I am sure the government can prosecute its case if it believes that the agency is making an unreasonable or impractical recommendation. But ministers and governments must not have the capacity to ignore or reject out of hand important research based preventative health recommendations, certainly not without providing its reasons for doing so. I would have thought that formalising a structure to allow for the recommendations and advice given by this body to be made public would strengthen it rather than weaken it. In any event, the fact is that this information will be subject to FOI and the estimates process—why not have a system in place whereby we will get to see the advice given to the government on the expiration of 12 months? I commend this amendment to my colleagues. I think there would be inherent dangers in having a summary. It could be subject to a debate as to what has been left in or out. I think having the whole advice is a much preferable course of action.