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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 385

Mr MILTON —Will the Attorney-General inform the House of the total cost of providing information under the Freedom of Information Act for all departments for the last financial year? Will he also indicate what proportion of this figure is a result of parliamentarians seeking information under the Act?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I cannot answer that question to the extent that the honourable gentleman may want me to; I will try to get further information for him. However, I can say that requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act are escalating each month. At present they are running at a rate of 3,000 a month. This year the number of requests will perhaps total some 36,000. Last year they totalled 19,000. Last year the cost of answering the requests was $17m, so it is working out at an average of about $900 per request. It surprised me to find out that the amount we have collected from charges is $13,000. So there is a fair gap between what it is costing us to provide the information and what we are collecting. Let me make it very clear that a number of requests are made to enable people to correct their records. The bodies most involved in the provision of information under the Act are the Australian Taxation Office, and the departments of Veterans' Affairs, Social Security, Defence and Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Those five account for about 50 per cent of all requests. I think it is a matter that the Government may have to look at, not so much from the point of view of denying any information but from the point of how much it is costing. Perhaps the information sought can be given in a much easier fashion than by the present method.

I understand that some parliamentarians make use of the provisions of the Act. About 100 requests have been made. One significant request made recently was by a former parliamentarian, Mr Newman, the former member for Bass.

Mr Goodluck —A good member too.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Yes, that is why he is no longer here! The Government may have to pursue the matter a bit further because Mr Newman has asked for all documents relating to all the travel expenses of Ministers over two years. I understand that the information sought involves 10,000 pages and it relates to every particular. I understand the cost--

Mr Goodluck —There is still no aspersion.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am not making any aspersions. It is well known that any honourable member can have information on the cost that is incurred during ministerial trips but the gentleman asked for all documents-every single document.

Mr Goodluck —Somebody said something against him.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Mr Newman is no longer a member of parliament. I make the point that the cost of providing that information will run into many thousands of dollars. The question arises: Would Mr Newman be prepared to pay for the cost of providing the information?

Mr N. A. Brown —I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you make a ruling as to whether it is proper for a Minister, either the Attorney-General or anyone else, to reveal publicly in this manner details of requests under the Freedom of Information Act made by ordinary private citizens?

Mr SPEAKER —I accept that the honourable member for Menzies has asked a serious question. I think he will realise that there are a number of facets to his query. I ask him to allow me to consider the matter and advise the House accordingly when I have done so. I think he will appreciate that to answer that sort of question off the top of my head may lead me into error.